David Dinkins

Learning from New York

Sydney Morning Herald

Yesterday I had a guest post from David Garrett that provoked agreat deal of comment. Later on I read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that suggests that we have much to learn from the New York experience:

New York has achieved twice the national rate of the decline in crime in the past 30 years while reducing the incarceration rate.

The tide turned when a Democratic mayor, David Dinkins, an African-American liberal in denial about black crime, was replaced by the city’s leading prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani. New Yorkers, who vote overwhelmingly Democrat, were so weary of crime they turned to a Republican.

Under Giuliani, the police began swamping areas where street crime was brazen. They conducted stop-and-frisk operations. They collected fingerprints. This raised the ire of civil libertarians and civil rights warriors but it had a dramatic impact.

Police identified what they called hot spots and although most of those frisked were black and Hispanic, the black and Hispanic communities benefited most from the new policies because they were disproportionately the victims of street crime. Giuliani was re-elected. After two terms he was replaced by another Republican, Michael Bloomberg, who later fell out with the party, but Republicans have been running New York for the better part of 18 years.

Professor Zimring concludes that the police, by inhibiting street crime, inhibited crime generally. They took away a milieu. This had the greatest impact on the greatest source of crimes – criminals coming out of prison – who found their old comfort zones were gone. This led to a reduction of crime, not because prisoners came out ”reformed” but because a reduction in criminal activity on the streets had changed the social environment. It created a virtuous cycle.

Recidivism declined. The incarceration rate declined. The police also took a more pragmatic approach to victimless crime, especially marijuana possession. This led to a further reduction in the prison population.