The Rudy Record: Crime Reduction
Many New Yorkers (and most of the city’s ruling liberal elite) had given up on reducing crime by the time of Rudy Giuliani was inaugurated Mayor of New York City.
At that time, New York City was averaging five murders a day (1800-2200 murders a year between 1989 and 1993) and 10,000 felonies a week. Property crimes had essentially been decriminalized, with car owners displaying flags of surrender such as “radio already stolen” to prevent further break-ins. Roving “wolf packs” of street toughs instilled fear in law abiding citizens on the city’s streets.
Those who could leave the city did so (further weakening the city’s already crumbling taxpayer base). Of the residents fleeing New York City, 49% stated that they or someone they resided with had been a victim of violent crime within three years of their departure. By 1990, over one million New Yorkers had fled the city.
Mayor David Dinkins, not surprisingly, placed the blame for New York’s crime problem at society’s feet, echoing the liberal axiom that crime is best fought by increased government spending on social programs, or “fighting crime at its roots”. The answer certainly was not more police officers, as many liberal activists noted in reaction to budget cuts. Prominent among their suggestions (in reaction to the $2.3 billion budget deficit) was the city’s incoming police academy class.
One poll respondent best summarized the feelings of New Yorkers regarding fighting crime in the city, lamenting, “It’s a bigger job than anyone can handle.”
Mayor Giuliani made “revolutionizing” New York City’s fight against crime his mission. His underlying philosophy: “Broken Windows” policing. His main weapon: a truly revolutionary tactic called Compstat.
The “Broken Windows” theory of policing first appeared in the March 1982 edition of the Atlantic Monthly in an article by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. In essence, Broken Windows theory states that major crime will be reduced by enforcing laws on minor offenses because, A.) The rigorous enforcement of standard of living crimes such as vandalism creates an environment that is hostile to the individuals that are likely to commit more serious crimes, and B.) Individuals who commit smaller offenses are more likely to also commit more serious crimes. According to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, roughly 2 in 13 subway fare-beaters had felony warrants. Enforcement of small offenses like turnstile jumping, leads to the capture of serious felons, keeping them off the city streets.
“Broken Windows” policing worked. Felonies in the city’s subway system dropped 75%. One out of every seven turnstile jumpers were found to either possess a weapon or be wanted under a felony warrant.
The other critical benefit of the rigorous enforcement of “Broken Windows” policing is that ridding the city of criminals who perpetrate quality of living crimes usually leads to fewer law abiding citizens fleeing a community.
Compstat’s effectiveness in fighting crime was due to its main areas of focus: the accurate compilation of crime statistics, and the accountability of those entrusted to fight crime.
No major city police department had ever successfully implemented a program to collect and analyze crime statistics on a daily basis. This was the foundation of Compstat’s strategy. Many doubted that this was even possible, with the normal sample of information for analysis being monthly, quarterly, or even annually. As Mayor Giuliani put it, “Examining the numbers annually or even quarterly wasn’t accomplishing anything in real time. By the time a pattern of crime was noticed, it would have changed.” The infrastructure needed to conduct daily data collection was thought to perhaps be 2 years from implementation. The Giuliani Administration had it up and running in three weeks.
Compstat works in this manner. Police officers were responsible for entering crime reports into his/her precinct’s On-Line Compliant System (OLCS), which transmits the street report into the Compstat mainframe. The data is reflected on a map which allows analysis of geographic concentrations of crime (sorted by hour of day, type of crime, etc…), as well as a weekly summary of crime complaints that display trends such as week-to-date, month-to-date, etc… To keep the data honest, statistically unrealistic performance was flagged to allow investigation into “cooking the books” at the precinct level.
Accountability was stressed to everyone involved. The Compstat reports were available to all levels of authority in the chain of command. Every person, from the Mayor to the police officer on the street, knew how each precinct was performing.
The most critical aspect of creating accountability was the twice weekly Compstat meeting, where each individual borough command was to account before the Mayor and all of their peers, their department’s performance.
Mayor Giuliani remembers that, “from the very start of these meetings, the NYPD realized that something special was taking shape. [Deputy Police Commissioner] Jack Maple would pepper the precinct commander with: ‘Why are car thefts down twenty percent citywide, but up ten percent in your area?’ Or: ‘Explain how assaults have been falling for six straight months until last month then started rising.’”
Mayor Giuliani made sure that each precinct commander’s entire staff be present for these meetings, which would make it difficult to “pass the buck” onto an underling who was not present, (again demonstrating how accountability was heavily factored into the structural processes of Compstat itself.) Decisions were able to be made on how to reallocate police resources to areas that needed them before the problem became out of hand. Fighting crime had moved into the 21st Century under Mayor Giuliani. Police were now able to respond to rising crime in real time.
The results of holding each precinct accountable for crime in their respective areas on a weekly basis speak for themselves. Major felonies fell 12.3% in the first year alone. Murder and robbery fell by the greatest one-year margins in New York City history-17.9% and 15.5%. In addition, shootings fell by 75%; rapes decreased by 1,200 per year from 1993 to 2000; robberies fell from 85,883 per year to 32,213; burglaries plummeted from 100,933 to 38,155, and auto theft fell from 111,611 to 35,673. Overall crime fell by 57% and the drop was citywide (as an example, Mayor Giuliani noted that there were 92 murders in Crown Heights and 35 in Harlem in 1993. By 2000, those numbers were 35 and 5.)
Even the New York Times was forced to admit (after criticizing Compstat at its initial implementation while trumpeting competing programs in cities like San Diego) that “the regular Compstat meetings are probably the most powerful control device ever devised for police.” Compstat’s success led to Harvard bestowing its prestigious “Innovations in Government Award” on the program in 1996.
Compstat’s success has been long-term, which has diffused the main criticism of the program, namely, that crime was already falling nationwide by the time of its implementation. While true on its face, this criticism fails to note that New York City’s crime reduction was three to six times the national average. New York City today remains the United State’s safest big city, while cities like Boston and St. Louis saw homicides increase 67% and 22% in 2001. Chicago had 20 more murders than New York in 2001 despite having 5.1 million fewer inhabitants. And what about that vaunted San Diego crime reduction program? San Diego experienced 16% more crime than New York City in 2001, with its crime rate rising by 3.9 percent while NYC’s fell by 7.6%
How will Compstat’s success factor into the 2008 campaign? Mayor Giuliani has recently hinted that a Compstat approach will likely factor heavily into his border security program. It is exciting to imagine how Compstat’s success in New York could be applied to managing the forces securing our southern border.
Rudy’s record in crime reduction is just one of many examples of his amazing record as “America’s most accomplished conservative.” It’s a record that Mayor Giuliani’s 2008 primary opponents, as well as his Democratic challenger in the general election, will find difficult to match