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NYC crime rate cut with penalties

Published: Thursday, November 3, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

New York City is America's safest big city. It ranks 221 out of 240 cities across the nation on the total crime index. Last year was the third straight year with fewer than 600 homicides and the fewest homicides since 1963. Crime is down nationally but the continuous progress that New York City has made in reducing violent and property crimes is nothing short of miraculous.

Several forces deserve credit for making New York City a model among American cities: an expanding economy, vigorous police work, and aggressive prosecution of criminals. One man, though, is constantly hailed as New York's crime-fighting messiah: Rudolph Giuliani. His administration and that of his successor Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserve the majority of the credit for the safety that New Yorkers enjoy today.

Rudy Giuliani pursued what is known as "broken-windows policing." This is the notion that strictly enforcing laws against smaller crimes discourages more serious crimes by sending a signal that the community is in charge. Giuliani identified the problems New York City faced: "It's the street tax paid to drunk and drug-ridden panhandlers. It's the squeegee men shaking down the motorist waiting at a light. It's the trash storms, the swirling mass of garbage left by peddlers and panhandlers, and open-air drug bazaars on unclean streets."

The mayor directed the New York Police Department (NYPD) to focus on restoring order, solving local problems, and holding local commanders accountable for dealing with those problems. He increased the size of the NYPD to almost 40,000 men and women and made sure they were seen prominently throughout the city.

The NYPD adopted a revolutionary policy designed to prevent crime rather than react to crime. During the 1970s and 1980s, liberal politicians claimed that crime was the result of "root causes" like social injustice, racism, and poverty. The only way to avert crime, in their view, was to change society itself. Whatever merits these arguments may have (and I'm not arguing they are entirely wrong), liberal mayors used the "root cause" theory as an excuse to cut police forces. Police pursued a "hands off" policy that overlooked minor infractions. The result of these two forces was the crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s.

The departure from the NYPD's "hands off" policy precipitated the reduction in crime in the 1990s - both violent and non-violent - that continues to this day. The FBI highlighted this progress in its annual Uniform Crime Reports. This year, New York City's murder rate is seven per 100,000 people. In Chicago that number is 15.5, in Philadelphia it's 22.1, and in Detroit it stands at 41.5. Over the past four years the murder rate in New York City has declined 12 percent compared to a national decline of half a percent during the same time period.

The statistics go on and on. Bloomberg has continued Giuliani's crime prevention policies. The improvements over just last year are stunning - murder down 4.5 percent, rape down 11.2 percent, robbery down 6.2 percent, burglary down 7.8 percent, and motor vehicle theft down 10.8 percent. Perhaps the notion of "broken-windows policing" wasn't that far-fetched after all.

New York City has led the way in the urban renaissance which began under Giuliani. Though crime has declined nationally, and is in fact at a 40-year low, no other city in America has seen such a rapid improvement in the safety and security of its citizens and visitors.

Americans have become accustomed to nationally declining levels of crime. This progress, however, is not an inevitability. Crime will not continue to drop nationally if Giuliani-style reforms are rejected. Europe is a case in point for the failed, liberal policies of the past. In a 2001 study, the British Home Office found that violent and property crime increased in the late 1990s in every wealthy country except the United States. Americans have a much lower property crime rate than European countries and violent crime has risen to a level in Europe which equals or surpasses that of the United States.

Eli Lehrer of the American Enterprise notes that, "superior policing does little good without a commitment from the justice system to keep violent thugs off the streets. The United States has the longest prison sentences in the Western world." The United States operates on a pretty simple notion: catch the bad guys and lock them up.

The reforms initiated by Giuliani in the 1990s prove that we can, in fact, prevent crime. The example set by New York City is a model of how to restore law, order, and safety to a community - and one worthy of emulation by mayors across the country.

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