About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

June 7, 2015

Is there a new crime wave?

"Don't bet on it," say Frank Zimring in the NY Daily News. I could not have said it better myself:
At their current rate, killings in New York City would end 2015 as either the third or fourth lowest year in the city's modern history.

"Ferguson Effect"? Doesn't look like it.
To a student of crime data, this sounds much more like white noise than a blaring siren.
There are real increases in violence in Baltimore, Maryland in recent weeks and perhaps in St. Louis, but making that into a national crime wave deserves an Olympic medal for jumping to conclusions.

Why Mac Donald's fearful haste?
On the subject on Zimring, I always show this 9-minute Vera talk on why crime went down in the 1990s. It's the best 9 minutes you'll ever hear on the subject.


Unknown said...

Cool video. I found it truly surprising that the incarceration numbers--I don't know about the rate--in NYC dropped between the early 1990s and 2009, by 11,000, if I remember correctly. That's astonishing, and cuts against the grain of current talking points, in which aggressive policing is causatively linked to mass imprisonment.

What's great about Zimring is that he's a splitter--he lives in the realm of the specific. I am not well-positioned to evaluate his empirical analysis, but I was persuaded by his logic and reasoning in the video. At the very least, I preferred Zimring's op-ed over the one published in the Guardian, also on the Ferguson effect, by Bernard Harcourt (despite my affinity for fancy French critical theory).

Peter, I take it you are persuaded by Zimring's argument that Broken Windows dramatically lowered NYC's crime rate since the 1990s, and disagree with his critics who claim that he has given too much weight to police practices at the expense of broader socio-economic trends that lowered crime rates everywhere.

Adam said...

Cool video, indeed. Thanks for posting that. I'd like to know more about how the NYPD won the war against drug violence without winning the war on drugs.

I always thought it'd be nice if we could tell drug dealers they could sell out of their houses, and we wouldn't come barging in unless we thought they were involved in violence. Just get them off the street, so they don't sit on Mrs. Robinson's stoop and prevent her from enjoying her own property, and so--when they decide to shoot each other--stray bullets don't hit 10-year-olds playing hopscotch. I assume drug dealers prefer the street corners because they can disavow any connection to their stash if a cop happens to discover it. Harder to do if the stash is in your bedroom.

Moskos said...

Yes. I do agree with Zimring. Not only for the reasons he said. But I also think effective strategies are copied more quickly than people assume. So of course broader factors matter but I've never heard credible alternate theories that do explain the drop in crime or explain why certain cities didn't see a drop. (Except for getting lead out in the 1970s.)

Regardless, as Zimring says, the drop in NYC was much larger than nationwide trends. So something happened here in New York. My next book (years away, mind you) will hopefully help answer what exactly that was.

As to pushing drug dealers out of public, it's huge with regards to prohibition violence (robberies and turf wars) and also just idiotic fights that start. There is more risk to dealing in a home. And keep in mind that Mrs. Robinson maybe get getting some rent money or groceries from the dealers. Or maybe not. She could just be terrified and given up.

Unknown said...

What happened in New York? How about it became the richest city in the history of the world. During this period finance (or FIRE -- finance, insurance, real estate) became a huge chunk of the economy. And the center? Ground zero? Manhattan. Throw in medicine -- the other huge chunk of the economy that has increased its share of US GDP by a huge amount, and you at least have a hypothesis.

At the same time, regional financial centers have been disappearing ... Baltimore used to be a significant regional financial center.

Agriculture as a major source of employment is gone .. but we still grow huge amounts of food. Manufacturing is still a major chunk of our GDP, but employment, not so much.

This doesn't explain the countrywide statistics, but Zimring keeps asking, 'what is different about New York'. I am sure I am not the first person to think about this and study it in depth. This is what comes to mind. For me.

Unknown said...

Regarding harm reduction and drug use. In certain circles, the idea of legalization seems obvious as a harm reduction technique.

I had hoped that new forms of the same thing would be roughly as effective as legalization. For example, oxycodine. It was very accessible in Florida, and not only could that have continued, but it could have spread to the extent that people that want opiate like drugs could just buy them.

However, there have been overdoses, and there has been a crackdown on the 'pain pill racket.' Things that kill people are tobacco and alcohol. No need to have this discussion.

From the CDC:

" Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have shown a similar increase. Starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010."

From CNN:

""I started out snorting," he said. "And, of course, to conserve my money, I moved on to shooting it."

The bottom line for users: Heroin is cheap.

Part of the reason is the nationwide crackdown on prescription pill abuse, which has made those drugs harder and more expensive to obtain.

In the first two weeks of 2014, police in Delray Beach, Florida, say, they seized more heroin than they did in the past 10 years combined."

""People were getting pills for $10 around here, and now it's much more expensive," said Delray Beach Police Sgt. Nicole Guerriero. "People are now turning to heroin to get their high."

And how cheap is heroin?

"We've heard for as low as $6 a capsule," she said.

It's everywhere. David is a self-described addict who doesn't want his last name revealed. His drug of choice is oxycodone. But he knows that when he can't get it, he can always score some heroin.

"It's literally five minutes down the road," he said. "It's everywhere. Everywhere."

This strikes me as a big DUH. WTF did people think was going to happen?

Moskos said...

As to New York being such a rich city, I think all that is too easy to say in hindsight. The city got better in large because it became safer. (though NYC never completely lost its middle class.)

It sure didn't seem inevitable back in 1990 that New York was on the way up.

Also, and this could be a cause or effect, but let's not forget immigration. It's been huge in NYC. 1.2 million foreign immigrants in the 1990s. Roughly 1 in 3 is foreign born. This is huge. It's helped the city.