Now Here’s A Sheriff Who Really Knows His Law.

There’s a little town in the middle of Indiana called Goshen which is the birthplace of the great Hollywood movie director, Howard Hawks, but will now become famous as the residence of America’s most intelligent, perceptive and downright stupid champion of the 2nd Amendment, namely, Brad Rogers, who happens to be the Sheriff in Goshen and recently opined at length in a local newspaper about the importance of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

rogers              The editorial begins with a question about whether safe storage laws should be required for everyone in Indiana who owns a gun.  And Rogers demonstrates his profound knowledge of Constitutional law by stating, “The elephant in the room is the government making those laws” because the government, according to this eminent scholar, exists only for the purpose of ‘protecting’ rights, and since we have the right to own a gun, obviously mandating safe-storage would somehow infringe on that right.

Rogers then goes on to tell his readers that safe storage doesn’t “have much of an impact on safety or crime” and he quotes John Lott “of Yale Law School” whose book, Safe Storage Gun Laws, contains the following verbiage: “15 states that passed safe storage laws saw 300 more murders, 3,860 more rapes, 24,650 more robberies, and over 25,000 more aggravated assaults in the first five years.”

I wonder if anyone in the Goshen News editorial department even bothered to check anything that Rogers wrote, because if it had been checked, they would have quickly discovered that John Lott was a Resident Scholar at Yale only from 1999 to 2001 and that he has never published any book about safe storage laws.  But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be the source for a bunch of meaningless statistics about gun violence and crime that prove nothing at all about the efficacy of safe storage laws, because the real question which needs to be asked is how many gun shootings would have occurred if those states hadn’t implemented CAP laws?

Sheriff Brad is equally opposed to mandated training before someone can buy a gun.  To support his idea, he gives the example of a woman who is the victim of domestic abuse. “She decides to purchase a firearm for her own protection. The gun dealer is not authorized to give her the gun she just purchased, because she has not yet received the required government mandated training and the certificate of proficiency. This woman is not protected from a government created to protect her rights.”  Did you follow that?  I couldn’t and I really tried. The fact that this woman might accidentally shoot herself or someone else because she didn’t know how to use the gun never popped into the sheriff’s head.

There’s an outfit out there called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association that has been going around the last couple of years drumming up support among sheriffs to oppose any Obama-inspired gun laws. I can’t figure out exactly what they are going to do now that a pro-gun President’s coming to town, but for the last eight years they’ve had a good run. On the other hand, you have to remember that most sheriffs are responsible for law enforcement in rural areas that tend to vote red.  Goshen went 60-40 for Trump over Hillary, so one shouldn’t be surprised that Sheriff Rogers would be against gun control since he has to stand for re-election in 2018.

On the other hand, before everyone in the gun violence prevention community (GVP) gets completely hot and bothered about Sheriff Brad’s stance on guns, there’s also a lesson to be learned here by GVP.  Because like it or not, many of the sensible ideas for reducing gun violence bear on the ability and activity of law enforcement agencies to enforce new laws.  And enforcement costs time, and time costs money, and the last thing a local police department wants is to be given a new law to enforce without the funding necessary to carry it out.

 

 

 

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Colion Noir Is Having Trouble Finding People Who Like Guns.

I don’t usually give the pro-gun gang free publicity, but I think that everyone who is concerned about reducing gun violence should take out 15 minutes and look at the recently-posted NRA video with Colion Noir. Nobody would pay Colion much attention if it weren’t for the fact that he’s such an atypical gun owner that he gets noticed no matter what he says or does.  He’s Black, hip, cool, a real dude in Armani clothing who talks the talk and walks the walk, the talk being how much funs it is to be into guns.  And in particular he talks up the whole issue of armed, self-defense which has become the rallying-cry for the surge in gun sales over the last few years.

noir                Actually, the real reason why gun sales have nearly doubled in the last few years has to do with one thing and one thing only, namely, the Kenyan, or the Muslim, or whatever Donald Trump thinks the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue happens to be.  And if someone like Trump or any other red-meat Presidential pretender moves into the People’s House in 2017, I guarantee you that gun sales will fall back down to where they were under George W. Bush, 9-11 or no 9-11.

All the more reason why the gun industry is trying to convince everyone that a gun is the best protection against crime.  But there’s only one little problem.  Violent crime keeps going down.  Or at least it keeps going down in neighborhoods where most gun owners happen to live.  Because most gun owners are married, White men who live in smaller cities or rural areas, and these are locations that, generally speaking, don’t experience a lot of crime.

Enter Colion with this video attempt to make gun owning to the demographics that don’t seem particularly interested in buying guns: racial minorities, urbanites, women and millennial men.  He’s got them all in this video; more than twenty people appear and most actually have something to say.  The only problem is that by the end of the production, you really understand what the industry will be up against when the current White House tenant moves back to Illinois.

The video begins with a very realistic and forbiddingly well-done scene in which a young woman screams her head off because someone has just broken down her door.  We then segue to a series of discussions between Colion and passerbys on a Houston street, some conversation snips between him, this guy and that guy, a stupidly-banal verbal exchange between Colion and four old high school friends, the requisite appearance of two hip-looking lesbians, and a final, philosophically-concerned exchange between Colion and his female friend, Ja-Mes Sloan.

In this final scene Colion gives the whole thing away because in responding to the doubts about gun ownership voiced by Ms. Sloan, here’s what Colion has to say: “I have the right to defend myself however I choose to defend myself.”  He’s a lawyer and he said that?  He has the ‘right’ to decide for himself what kind of a weapon he’s going to use? Even gun-nut Antonin Scalia said in Heller that the government can regulate and even outlaw weapons considered too dangerous for civilian use.

But maybe what we’re looking at in this video is Colion’s own attempt at cinema verité because if I were Colion, I’d be pissed off and frustrated by the time I got done speaking with all these old and new-found friends.  And the reason I might feel that way is that not one single person says that he or she would ever want to own a gun – not one!  In fact, the only person who expressed an interest in self-defense said she would rather get herself a dog. So here we have a video produced by the NRA which starts out with a home invasion but then says that when push comes to shove, most Americans would rather trust Man’s Best Friend, and that friend isn’t a gun.

 

An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.

 

Who Owns The Argument About Guns And Crime? We All Own It.

When a major player in the world of political messaging gets involved in the gun debate, we should all read what he has to say.  That’s because Danny Franklin from the Benenson Group isn’t about to waste precious space in The Washington Post talking about something that isn’t near or in the middle of the public opinion radar scope.  And Franklin knows a little about public opinion, having conducted political polls for guys named Barack Obama and Cory Booker, to name a few.  His op-ed piece in The Post appears to have been occasioned by a poll he conducted which showed that a majority of respondents believe that a house with a gun is safer than an unarmed home; in fact similar results have cropped up here and there in recent years.

conference program pic                What I like about Franklin’s piece is the linkage between reducing gun violence and public health which, if nothing else, confirms again what we all know; namely that gun violence has an epidemiology that has to be studied and treated on its own terms.  We can talk all we want about strengthening or passing laws to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ but when all is said and done, getting shot usually means a major commitment of medical resources, extended psychological trauma for the victim, family and friends, and costs in the millions for apprehending, convicting and punishing the dope who pulled the trigger of the gun.

These costs – financial, psychological, cultural – might be somewhat more acceptable if it were the case that guns in private hands serve any positive civil function at all.  In fact, if you are a gun hobbyist who collects guns or uses them for hunting or sport,  guns do serve an enjoyable end in and of themselves.  But the nonsense peddled by the NRA and pro-gun politicians about how armed citizens protect us from crime in not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense at that.  The odds that the average middle-class person will be the victim of a violent crime are about the same as the odds of that person getting run over by a rhinoceros; on the other hand, a gun in the home of that same person possibly considering suicide poses a real threat.

The data which demonstrates the indisputable risk of gun ownership comes from research produced by scholars in the field of public health.  And Franklin is on solid ground when he uses this data to advance the argument for viewing gun violence in public health terms.  Where I want to raise a comment, however, is when he evaluates public health strategies that will reduce gun violence because I think he identifies an interesting issue whose importance for the safe-gun movement has been ignored or not fully understood.

Franklin notes that public health measures were sometimes successful not just because of changes in the law but because of a growing public awareness which developed a momentum of its own.  By the time the Federal Government put health warnings on cigarette packs, for example, the number of adult smokers had already dropped from one out of three to one out of four.  And Franklin claims that the drop in gun crimes over the last twenty years might provide a similar degree of public awareness and momentum in the gun debate as well.

Every year when the FBI publishes its crime data the gun lobby seizes on the continued decline in violent crime as ‘proof’ that an armed citizenry is keeping us safe.  The truth is there’s absolutely no evidence showing any linkage between gun ownership and rates of violent crime.  I think the gun-safe movement should jump on these numbers to help promote their point of view, namely, that Americans clearly understand the risks posed by guns and should welcome everyone’s help to reduce gun violence even more. Why should the pro-gun community own the argument about guns and crime? If we are all concerned about gun violence, then we all should take credit when the numbers go down.

 

 

Does the Brennan Center Crime Report Break New Ground?

The good news about crime is that not only has it declined by more than 50% in the last two decades, but notwithstanding a slowing in the rate of decline from year to year, the overall trends keep going down.  The latest national estimate published by the FBI for 2013 shows a drop of 4.4% in violent crime from 2012, which translates into a twenty-year drop of more than fifty percent.  The decline in cities like New York and Los Angeles is even more dramatic, with reductions in violent crime, particularly homicide, of more than 70 percent.

Trying to figure out the reasons for this decline has spawned a veritable cottage industry engaging scholars from every relevant academic field.  Out of this handiwork has emerged 16 theories considered by the research community to have some degree of validity, and now for the first time a study has been published by the Brennan Center which attempts to determine the relative degree to which each theory can be used to explain the crime decline as a whole.  Unfortunately, what the Brennan report shows is that none of the theories appears to explain anything more than a marginal change in serious crime, and the factor that has been cited most consistently for its positive impact on crime over the past twenty years – incarceration – may actually have the reverse effect.

jails                According to the Brennan researchers, the positive correlation between rates of incarceration and rates of violent crime probably ended around 2000, with the continued growth of the prison population having no effect on crime rates at all.  This is confirmed by looking at states in which the size of the prison population has declined, but violent crime rates have continued to go down.  The result is what Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz calls “not only inhumane, it is an economic folly.”

The other major issue examined by Brennan is the use of CompStat and other digital, data-driven policing methods that first started in New York and appear to be responsible for a 5 to 15 percent crime decrease in cities where it has been deployed.  The problem with this finding, however, is that crime also declined more or less to the same degree in cities that didn’t adopt CompStat, and in cities that did adopt the CompStat system, the most significant declines in crime rates took place before it was deployed, or occurred simultaneously with significant ( and costly) increases in the number of police.

The real problem with the whole school of American crime-decline is that the phenomenon is hardly unique to America at all.  Crime in England has dropped by almost 50% in the last twenty years, ditto in the European Union, where the drop in crime over the last ten years is almost the same as in the United States. And Europe has neither increased its incarceration rates nor jumped on the Compstat bandwagon as is the case in many cities throughout the US.  It should also be mentioned that Europe has not experienced anywhere near the degree of economic recovery that has occurred here since 2008, yet crime rates everywhere in the EU continue to fall.

In all of the research on crime that is summarized by Brennan, one great omission stands out.  According to the FBI, violent crimes fell from 1,857,670 in 1994 to 1,214,464 in 2012, and over that same period, serious property crimes dropped from 12,131,873 to 8,975,438. Which means that over this period of time, 3,798,846 serious crimes were not committed because crime rates kept going down.  If Brennan is correct and incarceration accounted for a 5%-7% decline in crime, then somewhere around 200,000 of these crimes weren’t committed because the people who otherwise might have committed these crimes were in jail.  But this means that several million would-be perpetrators chose a different path.  With all due respect to theories about policing, abortions, CCW, lead paint and all the rest, shouldn’t we figure out a way to talk to them?

 

Want To Read A Good Book About Guns? Here It Is And I Didn’t Write It.

Philip Cook and Kristin Goss have published a very important book which deserves everyone’s attention for two reasons: First, the authors are without doubt two of the best-informed and serious gun scholars publishing today, and second, they have written a very balanced and well-documented essay that objectively summarizes the state of the gun argument on both sides of the debate.  The Gun Debate is a book that needs to be read and then discussed seriously, which is what I am going to do right now.

cookWhat I like most of all about the book is that the authors, as they cover each and every point, are careful to demonstrate that there’s a kernel of truth in every argument presented by both sides regarding the good news and bad news about guns.  Whether it’s the pro-gun position that guns protect us against crime, or the anti-gun position that more guns equals more violent crime, Cook and Goss are careful to show that there’s at least some data that either side can use to bolster their point of view.  In other words, what we finally get in the gun debate is a book that sets out to be balanced in the hopes, according to the authors, “that there’s still a possibility of a reasoned discussion based on the best available information.”  The foregoing is how the book ends and there’s no question that by the time you get to that closing sentence, you will have been treated to the best available information.  The book really is that good.

But here’s the bad news.  In aspiring to produce a work that treats both points of view seriously and objectively, the authors assume a degree of parity in terms of the motivations and objectives of both sides in the gun debate which simply isn’t true.  The tip-off in this respect is the frequent use of the words like ‘scholar’ or ‘scholarship’ when referring to articles and books published by authors whose positions on issues can be basically described as pro-NRA.   For example, they refer to the “terrible oversight” committed by historians who paid little attention to gun control policies as an aspect of the consolidation of Nazi power after 1933, an omission now thankfully corrected by the “scholarship” of a self-proclaimed expert on Constitutional gun law named Stephen Halbrook.  He has been peddling this Nazi nonsense for years, and it is brandished about by the NRA as part of their ‘slippery-slope‘ strategy to shoot down gun control regulations of any sort.  The reason why historians have ignored this aspect of the Nazi regime is that it is of no consequence in explaining how and why the most educated and advanced society in Western Europe could embrace a government that was based on such savagery and hate.  One doesn’t become a ‘scholar’ simply by writing about something that real scholars have decided doesn’t need to be discussed.

The strength of the NRA lies in the fact that they represent a constituency which, when it comes to gun control, has something tangible to lose; namely, their guns.  You can dress it up any way you choose – fighting for America’s freedoms, fighting for civil rights, fighting for family values.  But none of those fights would engage even a fraction of the current NRA membership if behind all those battles wasn’t the possibility that their guns would be taken away.  And to the author’s credit, they understand why this tangible loss faced by gun owners far outstrips the theoretical gains that gun control would yield for the other side.

The NRA and its pro-gun allies has absolutely no interest in supporting real scholarship or coming to the table for a ‘reasoned’ debate. Because abandoning their hard-core, extremist position would mean they were perhaps willing to admit the possibility that the other side had something worthwhile to say.  In which case, what’s the point of being a pro-gun advocate at all?  If only 25 percent of Americans own guns, then the job of the NRA and its ‘scholar’ allies is to figure out how to get guns into the hands of the other 75 percent. Isn’t that what the gun debate is really all about?

 

 

Guns And Millennials: Which Way Will It Go?

In February the Center for American Progress, which is Washington’s pre-eminent liberal think tank, jumped into the gun debate by holding a national conference attended by all the usual suspects (Bloomberg, Coalition Against Gun Violence, et. al.,) and issuing a report which described a “crisis” of youth gun violence.  The report is basically old wine in a new bottle and doesn’t really say anything that can’t be found in any number of other gun control reports, but since CAP often defines the issues that sooner or later end up spearheading the liberal legislative agenda, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the details, which I’m sure have also been read with interest at the headquarters of the NRA.

capAccording to the CAP report, of everyone killed by guns each year, one in five was 24 years old or younger, making gun death the second most common form of morbidity for this age group, surpassed only by motor vehicle accidents.  Actually, the number and rate of guns deaths has been pretty steady or declining slightly since 2000, while car accident deaths for people under age 25 has dropped by nearly 30% during the same period. On the other hand, vehicle deaths held steady and actually increased between 1990 and 2000, whereas young gun deaths declined more than 20% during that same period.  So first it was gun deaths that declined significantly for ten years and then stabilized, then car deaths dropped and likewise stabilized, with the two trends running very similar numbers since 2010.

Why was there such a significant decline in young gun deaths between 1994 and 1999?  The truth is, we don’t know.  Even though homicides usually account for less than 3% of all violent crimes, they tend to follow other crime trends and violent crime in the United States dropped significantly in every category between 1993 and 1999. Why did this happen?  There are lots of theories out there, from aggressive policing to increased jail populations, to removing lead from paint, less unwanted babies after Roe vs. Wade, and God knows what else.  Perhaps the decline in violent crime occurred for all those reasons, but the truth is that we simply don’t know.

One thing we do know is that the decline in gun violence before 2000 and its stabilization in the years since then occurred in the absence of any new gun control legislation at all.  The NICS background check system wasn’t operating in any comprehensive sense until 1998, which is when the decline in gun violence began to slow down.  For that matter, while the authors of the CAP report bemoan the fact that gun deaths are “failing to go down,” one could turn this completely around and wonder why gun deaths haven’t gone back up?  This is a particularly vexing question given the fact that gun violence remains stable at a time when more guns are being manufactured and sold than at any time in the history of American small arms.

Don’t get me wrong.  The fact that a group of Millennials came together to organize a grass-roots movement aimed at their peers, particularly the college-age population, is a wonderful antidote to the fear-mongering and glorification of the “armed citizen” that  the NRA cynically uses to promote gun sales.  And maybe the Millennials will be the first generation since my generation (I’m a pre-Boomer) to once again embrace the traditional notions of guns as necessary for hunting and sport but not much else.

On the other hand, I hope that the CAP and its legislative followers won’t just seize on this document to promote yet another round of political hand-wringing that will no doubt result in little, if anything, getting done.  I’m all for solutions to public health issues whose origins, incidence and impact we truly understand.  We know how many people are killed by guns every year, but I have yet to see a convincing study that explains why some people who have access to guns point them at themselves or others and pull the trigger, but most of the gun-owning population leaves the gun alone.  Like Walter Mosley says, “If you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.”

Watch Out Gun Owners: Bloomberg’s Out To Get Your Guns!

I can see it now.  The NRA annual meeting is about to kick off in Indianapolis and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that every speaker at the banquet and other public events will be told to say something nasty about Mike Bloomberg’s new campaign to “get rid” of guns.  What’s going on is that Bloomberg has announced that he’s going to spend 50 million bucks to bankroll a new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, to build a grass-roots movement across the country that will mobilize voters to enact background checks at the state level to counteract the NRA whose power at the federal level has prevented an expansion of national background checks from taking place.

Bloomberg and many other gun-control activists are convinced that the key to cutting down the rate of gun violence is the ability of the government to keep guns out of the hands of disqualified individuals (felons, mentally ill, etc.) by requiring pre-transfer clearance for anyone who wants to acquire a handgun regardless of whether the transfer occurs in a retail store, a gun show, or two people simply standing in the street.  The evidence supporting this argument can be found on the Everytown website, and it goes like this.

bloomAccording to Bloomberg’s organization, in 2010 there were 14 states plus DC that required background checks for all handgun sales, and together these states had a 3.17 rate (per 100,000) for gun deaths, whereas the remaining 34 states (CO and DE were excluded due to new laws) registered a gun homicide rate of 5.09; a difference between the two groups of 38%.  If Bloomberg’s group is correct in asserting that universal background checks would bring the gun homicide rate in the country as a whole down to 3.17, we would be talking about at least several thousand less gun deaths each year, and that ain’t chopped liver, even if you’re the former Mayor of New York.

But the moment that anyone come up with a plan to curb gun violence, I always try to figure out whether the plan really aligns itself with the data that is used to explain how and why it’s going to work. Or are we looking at what we often encounter in the gun debate, namely, a confusion between coincidence and causality which has a way of somehow obscuring the facts?  I’m afraid that in the case of Bloomberg’s continued love affair with background checks, it may be a little of both. Here’s what I mean.

Of the 14 states that required background checks for all handgun transfers, nine of them had rates of gun homicides lower than the national average going back to 1970 and before.  The fact that many of these states at some point instituted background checks at the state level wasn’t necessarily the cause of lower gun homicide rates because most of these states had lower homicide rates before any gun control laws were put into effect. For that matter, Mike Bloomberg’s own city, New York, had the most severe background check system,, the Sullivan Law, on the books since 1908.  But the city experienced a severe increase in gun homicide between 1988 and 1993, and then saw the greatest drop in gun violence of any major city in the United States over the next twenty years, a trend that started under Rudy Giuliani but increased even more during Bloomberg’s stint in City Hall.

Don’t get me wrong. Study after study has shown that when you pass gun control laws, the number of gun owners goes down, which no doubt leads to less guns, which probably results in less crime.  But Mike Bloomberg’s successful effort to make New York City safe from gun violence was not, according to his own testimony, due to any change in the laws.  It was the result of smart and aggressive policing and his 50 million bucks wouldn’t cover the costs of such a strategy across the river in Hoboken, never mind across the United States.

Is New York City A Crime-Free Zone?

The news at the end of 2013 was remarkable- New York City once again led the nation in the lack of violent crime. And while violent crime has continued to show a decrease throughout the United States, the numbers in New York appear to be exceptional.  In a nutshell, violent crime fell roughly 50% between 1994 and 2000 in the country as a whole, but in New York the decline has continued, with numbers for 2012, particularly homicides falling to levels not seen since the Beatles got off their plane.

To understand the true nature of New York’s crime decline, however, we have to look at the data not at the citywide level, or even the borough level, but at the neighborhood level itself.  Because there is an enormous variation in crime rates throughout the city, and this variation extends to differences within the boroughs as well.  Let’s look, for example, at Brooklyn.  The area known as Brooklyn Heights, which faces Manhattan from across the Eastern edge of the harbor, registers crime rates as low as can be found.  Last year there was one homicide in this area whose population was around 50,000; walk a mile into the Fort Greene neighborhood, an area with the same number of residents, and the homicide total last year was 6.  The homicide rate in New York was slightly more than 4, in Brooklyn Heights it was 2, in Fort Greene it was 12.  Fort Green had an average of 4 homicides each year between 2009 and 2012. The city had the overall lowest number of homicides in 2013 since the end of the Korean War, but some kind of war is still going on in Fort Greene.

Brownsville - East New York. Picture by author.

Brownsville – East New York. Picture by author.

If you go around the city with a map in one hand and the NYPD crime data in the other, an interesting profile begins to emerge.  Neighborhoods that were at the two extremes – richest and poorest – back when crime numbers began falling after 1994, appear to have changed little since that time.  The city’s wealthiest neighborhood, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is largely vertical in terms of residential architecture, has little street life, even less commercial activity, and experiences very little crime. The poorest neighborhoods, with the exception of public housing projects are for the most part architecturally horizontal, have little street life, even less commercial activity and experience lots of crime.  While crime has decreased in inner-city neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, rates for every category of serious crime are four to five times higher than the city as a whole but the lack of population density masks these numbers when they roll up within citywide numbers as a whole.

Upper East Side - Manhattan

Upper East Side – Manhattan

Where neighborhood profiles and the crime rates have changed most dramatically is in areas that have either gentrified, such as the former meatpacking district in Manhattan, or the great swatches of real estate now occupied by “new” immigrants in The Bronx, Brooklyn, and most notably, Queens.  These populations, who at last count spoke more than 700 different languages, now account for more than 40% of the city’s total population, the first time that such a high percentage of foreign-born have been living in New York since before World War I.

Many of the areas now occupied by new immigrants were former working-class and middle-class neighborhoods whose previous residents fled the city in droves during the economic and fiscal downturn of the 1970s, or held second-generation Americans whose idea of capturing the American dream meant moving out to the ‘burbs.  But the new immigrant populations appear eager to stabilize their urban neighborhoods and their decision to re-urbanize what otherwise might have become more inner-city ghettos is what has driven down the city’s rate of crime.

Between 1970 and 1990 the city lost more than one half million residents.  Between 1990 and 2010 New York made up the entire deficit and added 300,000 more.  Without understanding how this ebb and flow of the city’s population changed the character of neighborhoods in every borough, discussions about crime border on the unreal.  We can talk from today to next year about policing, stop-and-frisk strategies, arrests and everything else, but we should always be mindful of this comment by Jane Jacobs: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace – sidewalk and street peace – of cities is not kept by the police, necessary as police are.  It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”

 

 

Want To See Crime Go Down? Buy An Anti-Theft Device For Your Car

There will be plenty of debate over the next couple of years about Mike Bloomberg’s tenure as Mayor of New York but just about everyone agrees that perhaps his biggest accomplishment was transforming most of New York City into a crime-free zone.  Sure, there are still neighborhoods that aren’t safe, particularly some inner-city parts of Brooklyn and The Bronx. But if you live just about anywhere else in the five boroughs that comprise America’s most populous metropolis, the high levels of crime and violence that engulfed much of the city in the 1970’s and 1980’s seem to belong to a very distant past.

nypdOf course we also know that the drop in crime after the early 90’s wasn’t unique just to New York.  Virtually every major metropolitan area registered steep declines in violent and property crimes beginning in the early 90’s and lasting for about ten years.  Nationally, the violent crime rate dropped from 747 crimes per 100,000 in 1993 to to 386.9 in 2012, a decline of nearly 50%.  Property crime went down over the same period about 40%, a remarkable change given the extent of the recession of 2007-2008.

In most parts of the country the decline of crime leveled around 2005 and has moved slightly upwards over the last several years.  But remarkably enough, not only did the crime decline continue in New York but it actually became even more pronounced over the last several years.  Frank Zimring, who studied New York crime through 2009, estimates that New York’s crime decline between 2000 and 2009 was at least twice as great as that of any other major American city, and in certain specific crime categories crime declined in New York over other cities to an even greater degree.

There are lots of theories out there that attempt to explain why the decline of crime in New York is both so steep and prolonged.  Much of the credit usually goes to much more aggressive policing aided by computer-aided deployment of resources in high-crime zones.  Tracking and curtailing the activity of street gangs and gun merchants also come in for examples of strategies that seem to work.  But if you ask me, one of the real heroes in figuring out how to cut crime in New York should be the insurance agent who figured out that nifty idea to offer policy discounts for vehicles equipped with electronic burglar alarms, because if there’s one thing that’s driving (no pun intended) New York crime rates downhill, it’s the virtual disappearance from many neighborhoods of automobile theft.

Between 2000 and 2013, the category known as ‘grand larceny – auto’ dropped by more than 80%!  No other crime category declined at that rate and no other crime category  declined by at least 50% in every precinct in the town.  The 5th precinct in lower Manhattan had just one reported vehicle theft per month, the 100th precinct in Far Rockaway, Queens, had less than two car thefts every 30 days.  Even though car ownership in New York City is far below the national average, the DMV reports that there are still nearly 2 million vehicles registered in the city, and daily commuter traffic no doubt boosts this number by at least another half-million or more. With all that traffic there were less than 7,500 vehicle thefts reported for all of 2013.  The police and Mike Bloomberg have done quite a job.

Actually the drop in auto thefts has little to do with effective policing because the truth is that with the new technologies it’s getting harder to steal a car every day.  Of course a car thief may luck out and find a car door unlocked or a forgotten set of keys.  But between incentives provided by insurance companies and aggressive enforcement of alternate-side parking which drives vehicle owners to keep cars off the streets, staying in business as a car thief isn’t an easy gig.

But if the cops and the Mayor don’t deserve so much credit for making it tough on car thieves, then this substantially changes the profile of crime in New York over the last twenty years.  Because if we pull the auto theft numbers out of the overall crime data covering the last ten years, all of a sudden New York’s vaunted crime decline becomes somewhat less steep.  In fact, the overall drop in crime since 2000 is no longer 50% but comes out around 20 percentage points less.  This is still a very impressive number but it’s far below the level being thrown in Bill DeBlasio’s face today.  I only hope that the new Mayor also knows how to read between the lines.