Nearly everyone in Oakland has opinions about crime and how to reduce it. Often public discussions in Oakland about these subjects devolve into an ideological conflict. Some think more police are the answer. Others feel that police can’t be trusted and social programs are all we need. Meanwhile, our mayor supports a “balanced approach” without offering any metrics or data to show us which of the elements in that “balanced approach” actually reduce crime.
Make Oakland Better Now! believes that in public safety, as in every governmental endeavor, decisions must be made on the basis of data and metrics, not on opinion or ideology. MOBN believes that in public safety, government decisions must be based on competent analysis of data rather than on ideology or opinion. We also are convinced that there are not sufficient data or analysis of data to show whether our non-police social programs are effective in reducing crime. We believe that Oakland cannot afford to spend any money at all on either police efforts or violence prevention programs that cannot be shown to reduce crime.
So we were very pleased that Oakland City Council Members Libby Schaaf and Pat Kernighan invited Professor Franklin Zimring to speak at a public meeting Sunday. Professor Zimring, Berkeley Law Professor and recognized dean of the academic study of American criminal justice, is the author of “The City that Became Safe; New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control.” He spoke before a group of more than 50 community members at St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, describing his study of New York’s crime rate reduction between 1990 and 2009. Zimring shows clearly that increased police staffing combined with properly-focused police work can greatly reduce crime.
The numbers from New York City are truly stunning. Starting in 1990, New York added about 7,000 police officers. The force also began using much more aggressive policing tactics.
From 1990 to about 1999, the entire United States, including Oakland, experienced a substantial reduction in crime. But New York City, unlike any other major city in the country, experienced a drop in crime twice as big and lasting twice as long. A comparison of the drop in “index” crimes of homicide, robbery, rape, assault, burglary, auto theft and larceny shows that in 2009, New York City experienced:
- 18% the number of homicides as in 1990;
- 16% the number of robberies;
- 23% the number of rapes;
- 33% the number of assaults;
- 14% the number of burglaries;
- 6% the number of automobile thefts;
- 37% the number of larcenies.
After controlling for the national decrease in crime and some other factors affecting Manhattan but not the other boroughs (significant per capita income increase and gentrification), Zimring noted that the overall decrease in crime was consistently 21% greater than the national average for 19 years. He concluded that once other factors were teased out, police efforts could be shown to have caused the following reductions in crime:
Auto theft: 21%
In our next post on Thursday, we will review Professor Zimring’s research on what works and what doesn’t work.