What’s Behind the Drop in Crime in New York?

Before we talk about the drop in crime in New York City, we should briefly describe what has occurred here over the past 25 years. Back in 1990, there were about 530,000 crimes reported. The specifics include the following arrests statistics:

  • 2,245 murders.
  • 17,497 transit crimes.
  • 24,000 (approx.) criminal trespass arrests.
  • 47,000 (approx.) marijuana arrests.

Over the course of a quarter century, all those numbers have been reduced drastically. For example, there were 352 murders in the city in 2015. What makes the change really spectacular is not only the decline in the overall number of crimes – they’re down by more than 75% – but the fact that crime was reduced while the population of the city increased by 15%.

The big question has been what caused the decline in crime. And there are about as many theories as there are theorists. Certainly economics seems to play a role in crime, as do drugs and other factors. The law enforcement folks would have you believe that the dramatic decrease in crime was primarily the result of Rudy Juliano’s “broken windows policing” policy. The theory behind that policy is that disorder in general (i.e., “broken windows”) generates and sustains more serious crimes. The policy calls for the cops to focus on less serious crimes, leading to more arrests for misdemeanors and other minor offenses.

Introducing Compstat

Experts agree that while broken windows policing might have had some role in the drop in crime, it did not lead to the huge and steady reduction in crime over a 25-year period. In fact, a recent article from NBC News suggests that the cut in crime is in fact due largely to the presence of Compstat, a statistical tracking system used by the NYPD since it was introduced to the department by Bill Bratton during his first stint as Commissioner in the early 1990’s.

Part of what Compstat does is to track crimes, and thereby pinpoint hotspots of criminal activity in a particular neighborhood. This allows precincts to target the hotspots. In addition, the availability of the data has allowed police brass to question precinct commanders about how they are staffing and responding to crime in their areas.

When all is said and done, what Compstat provides is information. And it’s the information that allows police to avoid guesswork and take concrete steps to deal with crime.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
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New York, NY 10016
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