When Time's editors put Rudy Giuliani on their cover and made him "Person of the Year" they were celebrating Rudy's finest hour: from 9/11 on. But New Yorkers have special reason to remember Mayor Giuliani, not only for what he did in his last months in office, but for what he did the seven and three-quarter years before.
Over that time Mr. Giuliani oversaw a transformation of the city, one made possible by an unprecedented reduction in crime. Since 1993, New York's murder rate has dropped 70%. Rape is down by 40% and robbery is off by more than 68%. There are 74% fewer auto thefts in Gotham these days and 71% fewer shooting victims. For six years running, the FBI has ranked New York the safest large city in the country.
Lower crime has led to a higher quality of life, and the phenomenon goes beyond making places like Times Square family-friendly after dark. Crime, let's remember is concentrated in mostly poor and minority neighorhoods and perpetrated against the residents of those neighborhoods. Which means the drastic decrease in shootings and homicides disproportionately spared lives in New York's black and hispanic communities.
A brand new report from the indispensable Manhattan Institute chronicles these law-and-order achievements and explains what made them possible. The report, titled "Do Police Matter? An Analysis of the Impact of New York City's Police Reforms," is co-authored by criminologists George Kelling and William Sousa. Back in the 1980's Mr. Kelling and political scientist James Q. Wilson formulated the "broken windows" theory of policing, which holds that minor offenses matter. Left unattended, these acts -- graffti scrawling, prostitution, street drug dealing -- can lead to more serious crimes as perpetrators sense a tolerance for disorder in certain areas.
"Broken windows" began under Mr. Giuliani's predecessor in the early 1990's. But it was not fully implemented until William Bratton, Mr. Giuliani's first Police Commissioner, took over in 1994. The results have been both significant and consistent. As misdemeanor enforcement increased, violent crime decreased. According to the study, an estimated 60,000 violent crimes were prevented between 1989 and 1998 because of "broken window" policing.
Under Mr. Giuliani, the New York Police Department also instituted a major organizational change. Known as CompStat, the new process provided the central command with sophisticated crime-tracking intelligence even as it devolved to individual precinct commanders the authority to make the tactical decisions necessary to respond. In return for this independence, commanders were held accountable for what happened in their precincts. The result? Local responses to local problems.
"CompState ws perhaps the single most important organizational/administrative innovation in policing during the latter half of the 20th century," the authors conclude. So successful has the policy been that police departments nationwide have copied it.
"Do Police Matter" also does a great public service in thoroughly refuting those critics and political opponents of the Republican Mayor who've insisted for the past eight years that the NYPD had little if anything to do with the fall in crime. In this alternative universe, the city's drop in crime should be credited to low unemployment from a booming economy. Or the decline in crack cocaine use that has plagued the 1980's. Or the demographic reality that the proportion of young males -- the most common offenders -- to the general population had dropped.
In fact, none of these alternative explanations stands up to scrutiny. Research shows that while the decreased number of youths in New York was coincidental to the decrease in crime, it was not the cause. Nor was any significant link found between lower crack cocaine use and lower crime. There did exist a weak connection between unemployment and falling crime rates, but it turned out to be inversive, as unemployment went up, crime fell.
Since September 11. the NYPD critics have been noticeable less vocal. While this isn't surprising, it is probably temporary, which is unfortunate. Thanks to this persuasive analysis, however, we know that the praise the Giuliani Adminstration and the police department are now receiving was earned even before the attack on the World Trade Center. Mayor Giuliani seems to have known this all along. Asked by Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" what most surprised him about the NYPD response to September 11, he answered without hesitation: "Nothing."
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CLICK HERE to compare crime rates among the nation's largest cities between 1995 and 2002.
FACTOID: New York City has over twice as many police per capita as Dallas (www.fbi.gov)