What Does It Take To Reduce Crime? A Report On Professor Zimring’s Presentation, Part II

In our first post on this subject, we provided some of the remarkable crime reduction figures from Professor Franklin Zimring’s study of New York City.  Today, we will review some of his views about what works, what doesn’t work, and what the unknowns are.

Professor Zimring presented a chart categorizing changes in New York policing as either effective, probably effective, unknown as to effectiveness or not implemented.  The changes, categorization and his comments are as follows:

Effective Hot spot policing;Destruction of publicdrug markets He observed that destroying the public drug markets does not reduce drug use, but significantly reduces violence associated with the drug trade
Probably effective Increased manpower;Compstat management and Mapping;Gun program Answering a question about Oakland, he (a) declined to state how many police officers were needed, saying there was no “optimum” number;  (b) said that Oakland needs ten times its current number of crime analysts, that these are inexpensive force multipliers and Chief Batts had been frustrated by having almost none;  and (c) addressed the issue of “cease fire” gun programs by observing that this meant different things in different cities, with different levels of proven effectiveness.
Effectiveness not known Aggressive arrests and stops He noted that in 2009, New York City police made 581,000 stops and frisks, that while the number of felony arrests went down the number of misdemeanor arrests went up, and said the purpose of these stops, frisks and misdemeanor arrests was to either to make the arrest itself the punishment (without regard to the criminal justice system) or to get finger prints.  He stated there was insufficient evidence one way or the other as to whether these practices played a role in reducing crime.
Not implemented. . “Zero tolerance policy”“Broken windows policy” Professor Zimring called these “urban legends,” adding that “zero tolerance” hasn’t been tried in New York and hasn’t been tried in Moscow.

Professor Zimring identified a number of other important findings, some of which are critical for Oakland. Among these:

From 1990 to 2006, jailing and imprisonment nationwide increased by 63%. In New York, it decreased 21%. By 2006, the incarceration rate in New York was half that of the country as a whole. So its not that incarceration decreases crime. The opposite is true: decreasing crime decreases incarceration, and its very substantial cost. And conceptually, of course, decreasing the cost of incarceration makes money available for many other government services, including, potentially, more police.

Also, while decreasing crime in the population as a whole, New York decreased it among previously convicted persons even more. In 1985, the New York recidivism rate (defined as reconviction by persons incarcerated for felonies in the previous three years) was 21%. By 1990, it had climbed to 28%. In 2005, it had dropped to 10%, a 64% drop in 15 years. In the rest of the country, of course, recidivism rates have climbed (to a stunning 67.5% in California).

Finally, while more job opportunities are good, the state of the economy and the availability of jobs does not affect the amount of crime.  As the United States experienced the recession of 2007-2009, its urban violence dropped during the same period. With the exception of drug dealing, urban criminal activities are not meaningful economic efforts. They are situational, contingent activities, which Zimring describes as recreational, and they shut right down under increased law enforcement.

Professor Zimring offered four takeaways from his research:

First, police matter.  Sufficient police staffing is essential to making cities safe.

Second, focusing on drug crime violence goes a long way toward reducing the homicide rate.

Third, we don’t have to continue investing in imprisonment to lower crime rates.

Finally, cities, or certain city neighborhoods, do not have to be crime factories. Most of those who commit crimes act contingently and opportunistically; so effective police work can greatly reduce the amount of crime.

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