Here in New York City, Rudy Giuliani owed a fair amount of his (inexplicable to me) popularity to the precipitous decline in crime during his regime. Rudy was diligent in ascribing this to his policies, which followed the "broken windows" theory, of cracking down on "lifestyle crimes" like subway-turnstile jumping, graffitti, cleaning car windows at major stoplights and so on, and made sure that the credit would accrue to him alone. (He forced out his police commissioner when Bratton dared to take some measure of creidt for himself.)
But I always thought that, while community policing and the lifestyle crime crackdown may have had some effect, it's more likely that these three factors, acting on each other as catalysts and intensifiers were significant:
Demographics The bump in the population curve of 17-25 year old men (the most likely group to commit crimes) simply moved on as people grew older
Economic The economy got better during the Clinton years, enough so that young men who might otherwise see organized or semi-organized criminal activity as their only option were presented with a viable alternative. In addition, the unemployment rate dropped, so there were less "street people" among whom petty (and not-so-petty) crimes can originate.
Drugs The crack epidemic waned, as younger men who saw the devastation that drug addicition brought to their families and friends chose not to take up drug use.
Now, I don't have any particular documentation for this, but it does seem to me to be at least as reasonable an explanation as Guiliani's theory that arresting squeegie men somehow mystically brought the murder rate down. And if my theory is correct, or even partially correct, then it's somewhat disconcerting to read this, from this week's Sunday New York Times City section, which is distributed only in New York:
As Glass Vials Litter the Street, Fears Rise of a Nightmare Revived By DENNY LEE
By day, the laughter of children fills the air along 104th Street near Columbus Avenue in Manhattan Valley. By night, it is replaced by the sighs of human desperation.
"It's a parade of zombies lining up to buy their crack," said Michael Gotkin, a landscape architect who lives near the Frederick Douglass Houses, a public housing project where, he said, the drug activity is concentrated. "It happens almost every night."
People are seen spilling out of apartments suspected of being used as drug dens. Residents say the drug activity is busiest in the wee hours, between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. By dawn, all that remains are empty glass vials and small plastic bags, strewn around the sidewalk.
"We see people smoking crack in the open,'' said Ron Hoffman, a teacher who is also a member of the Duke Ellington Boulevard Neighborhood Association. "We see people who live in the neighborhood selling drugs. And in the mornings, I see a lot of street people who are sleeping on the benches."
While the area is no stranger to drug activity, many residents had thought the worst was behind them after the 1980's crack epidemic. But during the last year, residents said, crack has come back to their neighborhood.
Community groups have been monitoring the drug dealing closely. "Unlike before, we haven't had any violent incidents connected with the drug dealing here," said Marjorie Cohen, executive director of the West Side Crime Prevention Program. "Knock on wood."
Police statistics seem to bear that out. Major crimes in the 24th Precinct, which covers the area, are down by nearly 1.5 percent compared with last year, and nearly 10 percent compared with 2001.
Residents attributed the rise of drugs to the existence of several single-room-occupancy hotels, where the city has been placing homeless people with a history of drug use. Calls to the police, they said, have not resulted in improvements, although undercover drug busts have been conducted in the area.
Detective Walter Burnes, a spokesman for the New York Police Department, declined to comment except to say, "We are aware of the problem and we are addressing it."
But community groups said more needs to be done. "This neighborhood had turned around," Mr. Hoffman said. "Things were going so well, that we're getting caught with our pants down."
One can only hope that this is not a warning sign of a new burst of street crime. The demographics continue to be with us, I think, but the economy seems clearly to be in for a long period of stagnation and high unemployment, so if street drug use (of crack, especially) is on the rise...
Anyone who lived in New York during the depths of its last bad period will understandably shudder at the possibility of seeing anything like it again.
Update: What about the general crackdown on crime and the imprisonment of extremely large numbers of people for longer terms? Wasn't that a factor in driving down the crime rate?
The homicide rate in the US remained steady at around 10 per 100,000 from 1972 to 1992, in spite of the four-fold increase in incarceration (from about 100 to 400 per 100,000), while the rates of robbery, rape, and aggravated assault actually went up by more than 50 percent. One might say, of course, that quadrupling the imprisonment rate was part of a largely failed effort to reduce the steady rate of crime, especially the violent crimes about which we're most concerned. But twenty years of steadily increasing imprisonment with, at best, few results? It should also be remarked, by the way, that there has never been much substantial evidence that raising imprisonment rates reduces crime.
Starting around 1992 violent crime in America began declining and it is still going down—again, nobody is quite sure why. The homicide rate, for example, dropped from its two-decades-long 10 per 100,000 in 1992 to 6 per 100,000 in 2000. But despite that decline in violent crime over those years, the number of people in jail continued to rise steadily: from some 350 in 1992 to nearly 500 per 100,000 at the end of the millennium—an increment that adds up to tens of millions more days in prison.
Can we conclude, then, that the dramatic increase in imprisonment that began in 1972 belatedly began deterring violent crime in 1992, twenty years later, when crime rates started dropping? If this is the case, then why did the rate of imprisonment continue to increase after crime had begun declining?
Crime continues to be on the decline. Yet incarceration rates are still increasing, though they have begun leveling off, even declining slightly, in a few states, more as an economic measure than as one of changed attitudes toward the harshness of prison policies. Even so, the weekly increase in the number of jail beds needed between June 2000 and June 2001, for example, was 587: not as great as the 1,500 weekly increase in the 1990s, but still considerable. Why are there 30,000 additional jail beds per year while crime continues to decline?
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
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i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
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Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
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