Once Upon A Time In New York

So now in response to the George Floyd killing the latest Liberal movement by Mayors of several Democrat-run cities is to Defund Their Police Departments, or worse.

Smaller police departments are not the answer, just get rid of the 2-3 percent who are bad apples. If they actually end up doing this the criminal element will take advantage of the situation and the results will not be pretty.

Over twenty years ago crime in New York was rampant due to Liberal policies that were soft on crime. It finally got bad enough that they elected a Republican mayor who turned things around.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton credited their success to the Broken Windows approach. The theory was that untended disorder and minor offenses give rise to serious crime and urban decay. This approach hypothesizes that government and community action to restore order can reduce crime.

The article below by George L. Kelling explains what it is and how it was effectively implemented in New York. This is the type of action that is needed crime-ridden cities, rather than letting criminals rampage them.

How New York Became Safe: The Full Story

A citywide effort, involving many agencies and institutions, helped restore order.

Just 20 years ago, New York City was racked with crime: murders, burglaries, drug deals, car thefts, thefts from cars. (Remember the signs in car windows advising no radio?) Unlike many cities’ crime problems, New York’s were not limited to a few inner-city neighborhoods that could be avoided. Bryant Park, in the heart of midtown and adjacent to the New York Public Library, was an open-air drug market; Grand Central Terminal, a gigantic flophouse; the Port Authority Bus Terminal, “a grim gauntlet for bus passengers dodging beggars, drunks, thieves, and destitute drug addicts,” as the New York Times put it in 1992. In July 1985, the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City published a study showing widespread fear of theft and assault in downtown Brooklyn, Fordham Road in the Bronx, and Jamaica Center in Queens. Riders abandoned the subway in droves, fearing assault from lunatics and gangs.

New York’s drop in crime during the 1990s was correspondingly astonishing—indeed, “one of the most remarkable stories in the history of urban crime,” according to the University of California law professor Franklin Zimring. While other cities experienced major declines, none was as steep as New York’s. Most of the criminologists’ explanations for it—the economy, changing drug-use patterns, demographic changes—have not withstood scrutiny. Readers of City Journal will be familiar with the stronger argument that the New York Police Department’s adoption of quality-of-life policing and of such accountability measures as Compstat was behind the city’s crime drop.

Yet that explanation isn’t the whole story. Learning the rest is more than an academic exercise, for if we can understand fully what happened in New York, we not only can adapt it to other cities but can ensure that Gotham’s crime gains aren’t lost in today’s cash-strapped environment.

As New York suffered, an idea began to emerge that would one day restore the city. Nathan Glazer first gave it a voice in a 1979 Public Interest article, “On Subway Graffiti in New York,” arguing that graffitists, other disorderly persons, and criminals “who rob, rape, assault, and murder passengers . . . are part of one world of uncontrollable predators.” For Glazer, a government’s inability to control even a minor crime like graffiti signaled to citizens that it certainly couldn’t handle more serious ones. Disorder, therefore, was creating a crisis that threatened all segments of urban life. In 1982, James Q. Wilson and I elaborated on this idea, linking the disorder to serious crime in an Atlantic story called “Broken Windows.”

Yet it wasn’t just intellectuals who were starting to study disorder and minor crimes. Policymakers like Deputy Mayor Herb Sturz and private-sector leaders like Gerald Schoenfeld, longtime chairman of the Shubert Organization, believed that disorderly conditions—aggressive panhandling, prostitution, scams, drugs—threatened the economy of Times Square. Under Sturz’s leadership, and with money from the Fund for the City of New York, the NYPD developed Operation Crossroads in the late 1970s. The project focused on minor offenses in the Times Square area; urged police to develop high-visibility, low-arrest tactics; and attempted to measure police performance by counting instances of disorderly behavior.

Despite some initial success, Operation Crossroads was ultimately aborted, and the NYPD returned to business as usual. Later, the police employed similar tactics in Bryant Park after Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis threatened to close it; again they met with early success, but again they eventually abandoned the attempt.

As soon became clear, sporadic police programs weren’t enough. Only when a wide range of agencies and institutions began to work on restoring public order did real progress begin. In 1980, a second attempt to fix Bryant Park took off: the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, headed by Dan Biederman, used environmental design, maintenance, private security, and other approaches inspired by the success of Rockefeller Center. Similarly, in 1988, the Grand Central Partnership (also led by Biederman) began reducing disorder in the 75 blocks surrounding Grand Central by employing private security and hiring the homeless to clean the streets. Thirty-two more Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) were developing similar approaches in New York.

Public transportation was another area where public order became a priority. In 1984, David Gunn, president of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), began a five-year program to eradicate graffiti from subway trains. Then, in 1989, Robert Kiley, chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, asked the transit police (then located within the NYCTA) to focus on minor offenses; a year later, he hired as its chief William Bratton, who immediately zeroed in on disorder, especially fare beating. And in the early nineties, the NYCTA adopted similar policing methods for Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.

Neighborhood organizations, too, began demanding that order be restored—even the local community board in the Tompkins Square Park area, which had once been quite tolerant of disorderly behavior. And the judiciary branch got involved as well, with the 1993 opening of the Midtown Community Court, which swiftly handles those who commit minor offenses.

Tompkins Square Park, once overrun by drug addicts and the homeless, is now a family-friendly haven anchoring the East Village. (LES STONE/SYGMA/CORBIS)

In sum, a diverse set of organizations in the city—pursuing their own interests and using various tactics and programs—all began trying to restore order to their domains. Further, in contrast with early sporadic efforts like Operation Crossroads, these attempts were implemented aggressively and persistently. Biederman, for example, worked on Bryant Park for 12 years. When Kiley was struggling to restore order in the subway, he had to withstand pressure from powerful opponents: the New York Civil Liberties Union, the mayor’s office (which had suggested bringing portable kitchens and showers into the subway for the homeless), the police commissioner, and the transit police. In fact, it was after the transit cops resisted Operation Enforcement, Kiley’s first effort to restore order, that he hired Bratton.

By the early 1990s, these highly visible successes, especially in the subway, had begun to express themselves politically. Better than any other politician, Rudy Giuliani understood the pent-up demand for public order and built his successful 1993 run for mayor on quality-of-life themes. Once in office, he appointed Bratton, who had orchestrated the subway success and understood the importance of order maintenance, as New York’s police commissioner.

Under Bratton, the NYPD brought enormous capacities to bear on the city’s crime problem—particularly Compstat, its tactical planning and accountability system, which identified where crimes were occurring and held local commanders responsible for their areas. Giuliani and Bratton also gave the force’s members a clear vision of the “business” of the NYPD and how their activities contributed to it. In short, a theory previously advocated largely by elites filtered down to—and inspired—line police officers, who had constituted a largely ignored and underused capacity.

Once the NYPD joined the effort, the order-maintenance movement expanded even more. Port Authority, initially skeptical about Kiley’s approach in the subway and Grand Central and Penn Stations, took similar action to restore order; the Midtown Community Court spawned the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization that helped develop the Red Hook Community Court in 1998; and BIDs increased from 33 in 1989 to 61 in 2008.

Clearly, Giuliani and Bratton were heroes in reclaiming public spaces. But Glazer, Sturz, Gunn, Kiley, Biederman, and others were stalwarts as well. They set the stage for what was to follow. Current mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly also deserve kudos; rather than overturning the Bratton/Giuliani innovations and going their own way—as new administrators are wont to do—they adopted, refined, and strengthened them.

As New York confronts a fiscal crisis, its leaders need to remember that the city owes its crime decline to a broad range of public and private agencies. Maintaining the NYPD’s commitment to its proven crime-fighting methods is crucial, of course. But so is the broader citywide emphasis on public order.

 

One thought on “Once Upon A Time In New York

  1. Pingback: June 2020 Political Article Reference List | Fatherly Advice and Rants

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