VIRTUALLY everyone was caught off guard by New York Citys stunning crime declines of the 1990s. No one predicted them - indeed, most pundits expected the exact opposite. Yet Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton not only anticipated, but demanded, the reductions. And Bratton set the bar high: only “double-digit” drops would do.
Chronic police critics, especially in New York, were incredulous: the NYPD was “cooking the books” (falsifying data). Or they said “it wasnt worth the cost” of police harassment and brutality (despite little or no supporting evidence). For skeptical criminologists, the NYPD was riding a lucky wave, with the decline driven by the economy, demography (fewer young people) and/or drug use patterns. Complicating matters, crime began to decline across the country, although somewhat fitfully, depending on the city.
Noted University of California-Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring jumps into the fray with his book “The Great American Crime Decline.” According to Zimring, the declines in the United States are real and unprecedented, especially in their duration.
The effect of traditional crime-control mechanisms fails to explain much of the crime drop, he says. “New” theories - police, the rise and fall of “crack,” abortion - are either unsatisfactory or incomplete explanations. “While many factors contributed to the 70 percent drop in New York,” he concludes, “changes in policing probably accounted for between a quarter and a half of it.”
Zimring considers two phenomena: the unexplained and unprecedented nationwide drop in crime, and evidence of major police contributions to the citys more spectacular crime declines. Both lead him to propose a new social-science paradigm regarding causes of crime and effective crime prevention.
“The physical, social and economic character of the city did not change much at all, but the crime rate did,” he notes. Demography is not destiny after all. Zimrings work is genuinely important for social scientists: one of their own, a mainstream scholar, is departing from traditional social-science thinking; uncoupling the crime rate from either social structure or social change.
Yet telescopic views of police and the crime problem such as Zimrings tell us little about what ultimately drove recent changes. And he leaves us with two unexplained outcomes: the national crime drop and the citys crime drop.
For those of us involved in New York during the Giuliani-Bratton administration, the experience signaled an end to mindless policing. No more riding around in cars waiting for something to happen, or sending a car after something happened. The NYPD identified problems and crafted responses, perhaps not with the rigor needed in the future, but nonetheless painstakingly.
Other cities reporting crime declines no doubt have their own accounts of strategic problem-solving. To understand any declines, researchers must systematically ask police what they did, and go out and watch what they do. Only then will we be able to link police action with crime declines with greater certainty and meaning.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/01212007/postopinion/postopbooks/the_right_way_of_policing_postopbooks_george_l__kelling.htm