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.


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  • Sam

    Freakonomics authors suggest that New York crime rates haven fallen because the criminal pool is not being born because of legalized abortion. 

    • Fergus

      No wonder it’s called “freakanomics”, you’d have to be a freak to believe it.

    • David Garrett

       Sam, assuming you are not a complete leftie twit who doesn’t wish to hear or consider any evidence that might disturb your fixed conclusions,  may I politely suggest that you do three things:

      1. Read my post from yesterday;

      2. Download and READ the Levitt paper I refer to therein. All of it, front to back. Go on, it’s only about twenty pages, you can do it;

      3. Come back here and tell us what you think of his conclusions. To prove you have actually read it, tell us how important Levitt himself says “more readily available abortions” is as an explanation for plummeting crime in New York State.

  • Dutyfree

    As a current but temporary resident of the USA, I can honestly say that I see more police in a day, than I would see in a month in NZ.  There are cars and Police patrolling everywhere and not just bad areas.  I see less hide and catch speeders, and more gun toting. taser carrying police walking around, yes actually walking around, than you will ever see in NZ.

  • David Garrett

    And before the Phool gets here and “shits all over the thread” as someone so eloquently put it over at Farrar’s place…YES I am well aware that New York is not a three strikes state. As I pointed our yesterday however, it does have “sentence enhancement” laws very similar to three strikes, albeit somewhat more complicated, and harder to translate into a New Zealand version.

    Also as I pointed out yesterday, the biggest lesson from New York is that  a combination of more intensive policing and sentence enhancement achieves the greatest reductions in crime. There is no question that three strikes alone, or any other form of sentence enhancement law, will be the magic bullet; I never suggested it was. But it’s a damn good start.

    Lastly, it is a no brainer that no-one (well, perhaps with one exception!) should be locked up for marijuana possession alone. To the best of my knowledge we have never done that in NZ, and we certainly don’t do it now.

    • nasska

       I’ll go further & say that I back total decriminalisation of marijuana for all citizens…..again with that one exception.

      • Peter Wilson

        I have an issue with decriminilization or basically ignoring marijuana use, as David Garrett seems to be advocating.

        How will the gangs and other low lifes earn their money?   By selling P and other hard drugs.

    • AngryTory

      There is no question that three strikes alone, … will be the magic bullet;

      Duh – that’s because if you want a “magic bullet” you first have to realize that what you really want is a “bullet” – and there’s no such thing as magic.  The cops know who the crims are: given them the tools, and most importantly the legal framework, and let them do their job!

      Result: no more crims. no more crimes.

    • Peter Wilson

      I don’t understand the thinking on marijuana possession. Either it’s illegal, or it isn’t.

      If partys don’t want people locked up for possession, fair enough, but then state you are in favour of decriminalisation.

      I know it’s hard, because you’ll lose votes either way. (But then you know the old saying about walking either one side or the other of the street – walk down the middle and you get run over.)

      And I understand NY started making progress when they clamped down on minor crimes like graffitti.

  • Liberty

    Nelson  a little  New York

    Dozens of people were arrested in central
    Nelson at the weekend as part of a police crack-down to clean up Bridge St.

    Nelson Bays Area Commander Inspector Steve Greally said 34
    people aged between 18 and 40, mainly males, were arrested – 20 for drunken
    disorder behaviour and 14 for liquor ban breaches on Bridge St and in licensed


    • David Garrett

       I am not sure whether you are approving or disapproving of this Liberty, but this is actually classic “zero tolerance policing.” A lot of those arrested will spend the night in the cells  and  be released  in the morning with a warning that next time they will be charged. And  if the inevitable dickheads who  DO create havoc again DO get charged and fined (no one will be going to jail for being drunk and disorderly) the message will start to get through. And then if they do it again…. Refer back to Cam’s original post and the Sydney Morning Herald article.

      • AngryTory

        All at vast taxpayer expense. 

        Now ask yourself how much it would have cost you in Taxes if say only 3 George Zimmerman’s were given the job of making Nelson safe.

    • Stevo.

      @ Angry [email protected]:disqus 

      Minimal extra cost than if they were not arrested.

      Police work 24/7 anyway.

      Keep it up.

      Money well spent.

  • AngryTory

    Learning from New York?  
    I’d rather learn from Sanford, Florida!

    • A-random-reader

      George Zimmerman shot an unarmed child who was walking home from a local convenience store.

      Take your drivel back to Stormfront.

      • Shady

        Except that Trayvon Martin was no innocent child.  He was tattooed, the gold teeth common to gang members, suspended from school and suspected of being part of a burglary gang that was plagueing the area.  He was 6’3″, but really skinny(140lb).  The guy who shot him (who was attacked by the “unarmed child” was 5″9″ and 250lb (really fat!).  All is not what it seems.

        Stop drivelling A-Random-Reader.

  • Northland wahine

    I would rather my civil liberties endure a little toe stepping than constantly be afraid in my own neighborhood. Of course such police crack downs as mentioned above, can be abused, just as privileges of living with democratic freedom are taken for granted.

    I hear the left screaming … Our rights, our rights! With rights come responsibilities and sometimes there is a cost. Decide what price you place on your rights and take ownership. I want to be able to take my son to the pool and not have to risk a verbal or possible confrontation with a teenage thug who apes the behavior of a gangsta. If that means police frisking some hoodie, shaded crack arse showing snot… I can live with that. And if that snot is one of my own? All the more reason, because that one obviously escaped my watch. 

    • nasska

      I’m not of the left & I’m still very cautious of any proposals to trade off “rights” as a price to be paid for greater security.  Although the arguments for such action may be sugar coated by describing them as reasonable or ‘nothing that should concern a law abiding citizen’ they form a slippery slope.

      Any freedom traded away has disappeared into the ether never to be seen again.  Little by little, just like slicing the elephant, we are seduced into handing over our lives to the politicians & the public service.

      Don’t trust the bastards.

      • David Garrett

         Yes, I think that’s a very valid point Nasska…but again, it would seem we have a lot to learn from New York. I have never forgotten being offered heroin and a hooker in Times Square at 4.30 in the afternoon in 1978. Now, Times Square is a place where families go to celebrate New Year..(Or New “Years” as it seems to have become…) Like Wahine, if I was a New Yorker I would trade being “turned over” by the cops now and again for that transformation.

        As the original post says – and its something the lefties never seem to ‘get’ – poor communities suffer the most from crime. I have always been struck by the fact that, as I posted yesterday, it was poor black counties in LA which most decisively rejected the proposed weakening of three strikes in California. If the article on which Cam’s post is based is accurate, it seems the poor of New York are of a similar mind.

  • Matthew Of Canberra

    You do realise that a significant fall in crime rates occurred all over the US around the same time, don’t you?   And that the “zero tolerance” approach also included hiring an extra 10,000 cops and cracking down on property owners to start maintaining the bits of the urban environment that they were responsible for?  That was the point of the “broken windows” offensive – property-owners were ordered to fix windows, replace locks, repair fences, remove trash, clean off graffiti.  There was a LOT more to new york’s approach than just frisking more minorities.  They (literally) cleaned up the streets.

    The problem with the zero tolerance approach is that all anyone knows about it is the name – and they think that tells them all they need to know.  The increased stop-and-search and “move-on” made life hard for street crime, absolutely.  It did cause a reduction in low-level crime, but it didn’t do a great deal for more serious crime (as it was supposed to), and also led to a lot of that low-level crime simply moving elsewhere.  Frisking black kids didn’t lead to the astonishing fall in the murder rate seen in new york. 

    What ultimately happened was that the economy improved (everywhere, not just new york), certain insidious drugs became less popular (and I don’t believe anyone’s sure why the crack epidemic ended – there just wasn’t ever a second generation of users) and investment came back to the urban areas that were previously poverty-laden wastelands.  Housing improved, people got more and better jobs. 

    I’m all for hiring more cops.  And I’m fine with property owners being forced to keep their stuff tidy.  And I’m absolutely keen on more police on the beat – just a more visible presence of responsible, trustworthy, capable law-enforcers in public places.  But nobody ever talks about that – they just think the police have to get “tough”, whatever the heck that means.  Here in australia we’ve seen what “tough” policing does.  No thanks.  We had to lock them up after they ran out of control.

    • David Garrett

       Matthew, you make some good points.  Zero tolerance is certainly not simply about “getting tough and locking more up”; as I understand it, the central concept is not simply  ignoring minor crime and turning a blind eye….pretty much the polar opposite  of the  “liaise with the gangstas” approach seen in the TV show from the 80’s “Hill Street Blues”. ZTP was a  move decisively  away from that approach.Because that  just made things worse.

      Can I suggest you read the Levitt paper I refer to in my post from yesterday? Levitt is always quoted as saying “it was all down to more readily available abortions”, but that is NOT what he says at all.

      And yes, crime did drop right accross the US in the 90’s. As to that, see my post from yesterday. With rare exceptions, states who used sentence enhancement laws more than other states  got the best results. NY hit the problem at both ends as it were – the policing end and the sentencing end. As a result,  New York got the best results of all by a considerable margin.

  • Northland wahine

    You’re right, our freedoms should not be traded… Any right that is worth it’s salt should be fought for. And one of those rights, for myself, is the right to a safer neighborhood.

    I have lived in Manurewa for 29 years. I raised 2 sons who are now young men, one is the father of 3. I am now raising a 5 year old. In that time I have seen our community go from lower yet working class to 2 out of families on welfare benefits.  I’ve seen old women pushed to the ground while thugs steal their purses, and closer to home, one of my own sons has a titanium jaw from a vicious mugging over a t shirt. This is part of our reality.The other part is you do see hope as families struggle to do what is right by their families and the community. However when the so called needs of few outweigh the needs of the many, it makes the struggle more arduous. I want the right to feel safe. I believe that right is more important than the right for a drug dealer, a thug, a gang of teens congregating on a street corner to their so called civil rights. I’m sure there will be readers who think my fear is based on racism or cultural ignorance. They would be wrong. 

    My fear is small bit and my young mokopuna will grow into adults never enjoying and feeling safe in the community they were born into.

    • David Garrett

       Jeez Wahine, that is a powerful piece…it is common knowledge –  at least over at Farrar’s place –  that you and I are friends ,   but I had no idea of your son and his titanium jaw. Gutsy smart women like you a big part of the reason poor  black counties in California didn’t want a bar  of weakening their version of three strikes; those women  had seen crime largely disappear from their neighbourhoods because the bros were in jail…sometimes they literally ARE their bros…and the women don’t care!

      Only one small fault with your post…there are some pretty dumb lefties lurking here…I am not sure if you have made it sufficiently plain that you are a proud Ngapuhi, and not some screeching racist white  woman, which is what they would prefer you to be, the more easily to dismiss you…

      All power to you my friend..

      • Northland wahine

        I am proud to call you my friend , David. 

        And to fellow bloggers I apologise for my typos. One of the drawbacks when blogging from a phone.

    • nasska

       Well put & hard to argue against since you live in the thick of it.  I guess I look at from a slightly different perspective.

      The police already have considerable powers to act against the scum you’re talking about.  Even if the courts deal hands of wet bus tickets & the lawyers scream about profiling, front line cops wield sufficient power to make life hell for the street thugs…..if they want to.

      In the town nearest to where I live the cops will from time to time concentrate on an area & a group they know is causing a disproportionate amount of grief in the area.  It’s always successful in the short term, then the pressure goes off & crime increases again.  It hardly requires vast qualifications to figure out that tactics such as adopted by New York as David G describe work.

      The police, however effective or non effective they are in certain areas, are like any other hierarchy of public servants.  There’s not a problem or a situation in creation that wouldn’t disappear if only the parliamentarians would grant them greater powers over the citizens.  Too often the elected ones roll over to get their tummies tickled!

      Wouldn’t pressuring the local police chiefs & MP’s to get on with the job they’re paid to do be worth a try?

      • Northland wahine.

        The trouble with pressuring MPs is that they have party policies/agendas they have to adhere to. And as for the police? What happens to any public servant when they do a great job? They are promoted or moved on in recognition for their good work. 

        On paper, I can not fault your logic Nasska. Our reality is a little different.

  • nasska

    Alas Northern Wahine, a brilliant hypothesis gets run over by cold reality.

    I do, however, sincerely doubt that giving extra powers to police is going to produce the results you seek.

    • David Garrett

       No Nasska.. they don’t need more powers, there just needs to be more of them on the streets…which is fact what they are doing already…

      I think Cam might have banned the parasite…surely he would have been here by now…or am I tempting fate??

      • jay cee

        agree that the police need to be more visible,thats pretty much the solution to crime right there the police have enough powers or laws to do their jobs.
        this post is from a leftie mr garrett as you can tell by the lack of ad hom put downs

  • Dutyfree

    There needs to be more Police on the street.  I grew up in Manurewa, my parents and some of my family still live there.  It has changed.  As noted there has been a big shift from working class to welfare.  I challenge people to go for a drive around the Clendon Park area for example.

    When I live in NZ again, I will be lucky enough to move back to my home in a very nice central Auckland suburb.  I will see almost as many Police in my day in that area as I will in Manurewa.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Manurewa is bad, my observation relative to what I see in the USA in general is that I will see next to no police in central Auckland or Manurewa.  Where are they all?  Why wont they come to a break in unless you tell them you think someone is still on the property?  How is it that every day, yes every day I can walk out of my office in the USA and I will see both a parked Police car and a Police officer, but I could walk out of my office near Queen street for months on end and see neither in Auckland?  Have I seen any crime in my area in the USA?  Yes, a woman was murdered a few blocks from where we live, there have been some car break ins and I have seen the Police grab a shoplifter outside my office.

    But one difference I note, when the cars were being broken in to, the police increased the number of cars in our neighborhood. thefts stopped (and being ticketed for stop sign violations for locals went up).  In Florida where a friend lives, many of the Police get to take their marked cars home, because they get parked on the street, so people know there are police in the neighborhood.

    This comes at a fiscal cost, but rather a higher cost for police than the hidden costs of fear or broken jaws etc.

    • David Garrett

       Good post Dutyfree…I think you are well illustrating that it has become a no brainer in the US that if you put more police visibly on the street crime will reduce…

      And also a good point re the costs…and remember that in NY they have achieved both crime reduction AND reduced prisoner numbers..the costs of incarceration per prisoner in the US are similar to here, so there may well be a net cost saving – or at least cost neutrality  – in those extra cops.

      May I ask where in the US you are?

  • kehua

    One of our problems in NZ is that whatever the problem or situation, instead of of observing how  similar situations are handled by other Countries and basically adopting their practise we think we need a `NZ` solution, and so begins the gravy train. Umpteen models, thinktanks, surveys, costings,  petitions, submissions, protests, law changes, and by-law changes later the initial problems are forgotten and some lame arse,watered down decision is handed down to remedy a by this time significantly larger problem. Of course the cost of all  this to born by Tax and Ratepayers.