Where did our crime go? In August, it happened again, and the Mayor’s press conference with the Police Commissioner James O’Neill confirmed it. Crime disappears in New York. It’s so routine — and positive — mass media fails to report on it. New Yorkers, like the rest of the country, are misinformed, or uninformed. Take your pick.
My perspective is dramatic.
We moved to New York in 1991, and crime was so bad, we thought we made a mistake. In 1990, there were 2,245 murders in the city, a 17.8% increase, according to a report in the New York Times.
Edward Shaughnessy, a sociologist at John Jay College told the Times, that “the increase in homicides reflected a surge in seemingly random violence, with innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of drug dealers’ turf wars.”
“Random violence” caught in my mind like a meme. You could get trapped in an avalanche of violence as predictable as one of snow and ice.
Yet, it belied everyday experience.
I left my office near Madison Square Park at 5:00 and struggled through dense crowds on Fifth Avenue. We were packed tight, bumping into each other, but nobody was scared.
Confused was more like it.
Jack Maple’s “Charts of the Future” and CompStat
While New York City’s Police Department struggled to understand, let alone solve, the surge in crime, something interesting happened at New York City Transit.
Jack Maple, a transit police officer, began tracking crimes with pins on a map. Insights gained cut subway crime by an eye-popping 27%. When Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired Maple’s boss, William Bratton, as Police Commissioner, he brought Maple’s “Charts of the Future” with him.
Rebranded “CompStat,” short for computer statistics, the system enabled a historic drop in crime. Did anyone imagine an unstoppable 20-year trend?
What does CompStat do?
Compstat is a performance management systemPolice Forum.org
that is used to reduce crime and achieve other
police department goals. Compstat emphasizes
information-sharing, responsibility and accountability, and improving effectiveness.
Under Bratton and Giuliani, police focused on quality of life issues. Their “broken windows” strategy assumed that crime festered when low level violations flourished.
Some argue that CompStat gets too much credit, citing numerous other factors, but crime tumbled. Everyone involved can take a bow.
Where did our crime go, New York City?
By 2000, New York City murders plummeted to 673… from 2,245 in just ten years. That’s over 1,500 lives saved, that year alone.
Last year, the total was 295, less than one per day, a slight uptick from 292 in 2017. In 1990, there were so many murders, most never got reported, and by 2019, there are so few, the mass media exaggerates to hook readers.
We zero in on isolated incidents because the bigger picture is positive, and positive doesn’t put cheeks in seats for the evening news.
Where did it go?
CompStat, the awareness and accountability created, gets credit, but so does a range of other factors.
- Bratton/Guiliani’s zero tolerance on petty crimes positively changed the environment, and a higher standard prevailed.
- Funding for community policing added 5,000 well-trained cops to the force.
- Economic recovery and welfare to jobs programs gave 500,000 people honest work.
- Reducing exposure to lead meant fewer kids impaired.
- The crack epidemic ended, and a less profitable marijuana-based drug economy caused less crime.
September 4th, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill held their monthly crime statistics press conference.
“Overall crime down 2.1 percent in August, 2019 compared to August, 2018,” the Mayor said. “And the human impact, we always come back to this, what does that mean in real terms? It’s 188 fewer crimes, 188 fewer families afflicted by crime and living a better life because of the work of the men and women of the NYPD.”
Don’t ask the mass media where our crime went…
An incredible success story goes unreported in print and digital media, and it does not make the evening news.
But let me give you something to think about…
Between 2000 and 2018, major felony crimes fell from 184,652 to 95,883. Crime will always be with us, but drops like that warrant a monthly standing ovation. Thank every cop on the street, regardless of rank.
Astonishingly, the trend continues. We haven’t hit the bottom in crimes yet, and outside reporting shows that it’s reflected nationally.
In spite of breathless reporting, we’re safer now than we’ve been since at least the 1950s.
Now, that’s news.