The Article: What really cleaned up New York by Thomas Rogers at Salon.
The Text: If you compare New York in 2011 to New York in 1990, it seems hard to believe that it’s the same city. In the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, New York was viewed as one of the world’s most dangerous metropolises — a cesspool of violence and danger depicted in gritty films like “The Warriors” and “Escape From New York.” Friends who lived here during that time talk of being terrified to use the subway, of being mugged outside their apartments, and an overwhelming tide of junkies. Thirty-one of every 100,000 New Yorkers were murdered each year, and 3,668 were victims of larceny.
Today, in an astonishing twist, New York is one of the safest cities in the country. Its current homicide rate is 18 percent of its 1990 total — its auto theft rate is 6 percent. The drop exceeded the wildest dreams of crime experts of the 1990s, and it’s a testament to this transformation that New Yorkers now seem more likely to complain about the city’s dullness than about its criminality.
In his fascinating new book, “The City that Became Safe,” Franklin Zimring, a professor of law and chairman of the Criminal Justice Research Program at the University of California at Berkeley, looks at the real reasons behind that change — and his conclusions might surprise you. Contrary to popular belief, Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” bluster had little to do with it. Instead, it was a combination of strategic policing and harm reduction by the New York Police Department. Police targeted open-air drug markets, and went after guns, while leaving drug users largely alone. The implications of the strategy could make us revise not only the way we think about crime, but the way we think about our prison system and even human nature.
Salon spoke to Zimring over the phone about Giuliani’s crackdown, the unique nature of New York violent crime and what other cities can take away from this change.
How unexpected was New York’s decrease in crime over the last decade?
What happened in the United States during the 1990s was itself a major surprise. After essentially not being able to make any substantial progress in crime control over three decades, all of the sudden crime dropped over an eight-year period by something close to 40 percent. Now what happened in New York City was essentially twice as much of a crime decline, a four-fifths drop from its 1990 peak. That is to say more than 80 percent of the homicide, the burglary, the robbery that New York was experiencing in 1990, New York is no longer bedeviled by. And the decline lasted twice as long as the national crime decline.
How significant is that kind of crime drop?