NYC to rest of U.S.: Look and learn
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 7:33 AM
It's tempting to believe that Nov. 28 was the day the Earth stood still or the day the criminal element went to sleep at the wheel in New York City.
How else to explain why not a single reported killing, shooting or stabbing/slashing occurred in a city of 8.3 million people? So Monday, Nov. 28, goes down in crime annals as a colossal anomaly, right?
Believe it or not, the trio of zeroes in three major crime categories that day did not entirely stun NYC officials, who've seen violent crime there literally and progressively fall off a cliff over the past two decades.
Last year, the Big Apple recorded 400 murders, down from an average of 38 a day in 1990, when a record 2,225 homicides occurred. The same trend holds true for shootings. In 2012, about 1,500 New Yorkers got shot in the five boroughs. Compare that to 1994, the year NYPD started Compstat, its computer crime tracking - 4,967 people, an average of 14 a day, took a bullet.
Demographically or culturally, our state has next to nothing in common with NYC. Yet when it comes to crime, Oklahoma - and nearly every other state and major city - should be scrambling to copy whatever NYC is doing to prevent it.
Why is this?
Even the experts don't agree on what has made New York City's crime-fighting strategy so effective.
In a Jan. 25 article in the New York Times, writer John Tierney suggests that one of the things NYC has done right is emphasize police presence and shrink its prison population.
In the past 20 years, the U.S. prison population has doubled. A fifth of the world's prisoners - 2.3 million people are behind bars. (Nearly 26,000 of them are locked up right here in Oklahoma, which has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the U.S.) Keeping that many people incarcerated costs U.S. taxpayers $75 billion annually. (The cost is about a half-billion dollars in Oklahoma).
The United States, in fact, "is the only country that spends more on prisons than police," noted criminologist Lawrence W. Sherman told Tierney.
NYC, however, has been an exception to that trend. The number of its residents in prison actually has declined. Its incarceration rate, once one of the highest in the country, has plunged well below the U.S. average and has hit another new low. At the same time, crime in the city has fallen by more than 75 percent, almost twice as much as the rest of the country.
"Whatever has made New York the safest big city in America, that feat has certainly not been accomplished by locking up more criminals," Tierney wrote.
What is more likely behind the phenomenal crime-fighting success is increased policing initially and strategic policing later on.
Had NYC followed the national trend, nearly 60,000 more New Yorkers would be behind bars today and the number of city and state correctional officers would have doubled.
In the 1990s, NYC expanded its police force by a third. With falling revenues and budget cutbacks that expansion went by the wayside. During the past decade, the NYPD shrank by 15 percent, yet crime continued falling.
When criminologists "look at this trend, and compare it with the fluctuating crime rates in other cities, they conclude that the retreat in crime in New York is not just a matter of the number of police officers," Tierney wrote. "Those officers must be doing something right, but what exactly?"
The most likely answer, he said, is a shift in strategy called hot-spot policing.
"In the 1970s, research had shown that a small percentage of criminals committed a large share of crimes, so it had seemed logical to concentrate on catching repeat offenders and locking them up.
"After computerized crime mapping was introduced, it turns out that crime was even more concentrated by place than by person," Tierney wrote.
Place or person?
That theory is borne out in Tulsa, where certain types of crime - especially homicides and drug dealing - generally are concentrated in certain areas.
Police veterans in NYC and in New Jersey expected that if hot spots were targeted crime simply would move elsewhere.
Criminologists believed otherwise. One of them, Dr. David Weisburd, won the 2010 Stockholm Prize - criminology's version of the Nobel prize - by showing that crime was not simply being displaced.
After more than two dozen experiments around the world, criminologists generally came to agree that hot-spot police is an effective crime prevention strategy and the best explanation for the crime drop in New York City.
Closer to home, the public repeatedly has seen how targeted policing - including a variety of task forces aimed at robbery, burglary, gang violence, car theft - reduces certain crime for at least for awhile. Unfortunately, law enforcement, whether it be local, state or federal, nearly never has the resources to sustain that pressure.
The example of New York City raises a question - actually a gift for the obvious question: What would happen to violent crime rates here in Oklahoma if fewer resources were spent on incarceration and more funding went toward policing and prevention?
Julie DelCour 918-581-8379