I'm on what I think is a routine ride-along in Flatbush with Officers Peter Morales and John Ferretti, when the police radio crackles: "Shots fired at 3102 Foster Ave." As we screech to a halt in front of a big red apartment complex, Morales and Ferretti rush into the building and run up to the roof. "Police, don't move," they yell at a man scuttling down the fire escape. He dives into a sixth-floor apartment and empties his .357 Magnum out the window at the pursuing Morales. As the shots ping off the metal near him, Morales holds his fire: he doesn't have a clear shot that wouldn't endanger civilians. "I'm being fired on," he screams into his radio. Sirens blaring, a battalion of cars and vans roars up; cops of every description spill out; a helicopter buzzes overhead.
Inside, accused drug dealer Ricki Elam, 27, throws his gun into the oven and runs into his aunt's apartment next door, police allege, surprising her with a man friend. Elam rips off his do-rag and shirt, the cops later tell me, revealing a different-colored shirt below, and tries to sneak away in the commotion. But the cops coming up the stairs recognize him despite the costume change and collar him. The charges: attempted murder of a police officer, burglary, illegal gun possession—on top of his already pending drug charges and a gun charge.
This is a typical police story that you'll never find in the New York press. Capturing a gun-wielding felon without firing a shot—as police have done 155 times since 1995—doesn't fit the orthodox profile of a trigger-happy police force. Nor will New Yorkers ever hear about the collaboration between residents of this Brooklyn building and their local precinct to drive dope dealers out of the complex, or about the vocal support for cops I heard in the neighborhood. These facts contradict the preferred narrative of an isolated, racially biased force that scorns community involvement.
The press—led by the New York Times—along with criminologists, law professors, and activists, most of whom have never bothered studying the NYPD, has spun a distorted, error-ridden revisionist history of New York's crime revolution. Its harm extends well beyond New York, giving anti-police activists elsewhere ammunition to oppose the Gotham-style reforms that are any city's best hope for reducing crime. The basic story—which I've cobbled together here from Fox Butterfield's annual anti-NYPD article in the New York Times, other Times articles, a recent Jeffrey Rosen New Republic piece, stories in the Los Angeles Times and The Economist, and conversations with various academics—goes like this:
In the pre-Giuliani Golden Age, Mayor David Dinkins inaugurated "early and successful experiments in community policing" (Butterfield), which Mayor Giuliani mysteriously junked in favor of brute force. Giuliani's NYPD simply "thr[e]w people at the problems" (Butterfield), rather than think strategically about problem solving. Other cities' police departments reached out to the clergy, listened to the community to learn its concerns, and made "citizens the allies of the police" (Butterfield). Not the NYPD.
The Giuliani-NYPD strategy centered on the tiny undercover Street Crime Unit, which Butterfield and Rosen think is Giuliani's creation, though it dates from the 1970s. The Unit stops and frisks vast numbers of innocent people, declare the revisionists, hoping to net an occasional illegal gun or fugitive. By contrast, other departments require their "officers to have a reasonable suspicion before stopping a subject" (The Economist). Meanwhile, the rest of the NYPD enforces a mindless "zero tolerance" policy regarding petty crime and quality-of-life offenses. Officers and precinct commanders have lost all "discretion" regarding where and when to enforce the law (Rosen)—though, even so, they concentrate discriminatorily on minorities (Rosen).
The results: the bullet-ridden bodies of Amadou Diallo, an innocent Guinean immigrant killed by the Street Crime Unit outside his Bronx apartment on February 4, 1999, and Patrick Dorismond, an innocent Haitian shot by an undercover narcotics officer during a midtown altercation on March 16, 2000. When not actually shooting unarmed citizens, the NYPD has been creating a legacy of "fear" (Butterfield), evidenced in spiraling civilian complaints.
Almost nothing in this account is accurate. Let's deconstruct it and get to the truth:
MYTH 1: COMMUNITY POLICING WAS SUCCESSFUL UNDER MAYOR DINKINS AND HIS COMMISSIONER, LEE BROWN.
With almost as many definitions of "community policing" as there are police forces, hardly a department in the country doesn't claim to be doing it. But the core ideas are: an attention to local conditions, especially quality-of-life problems, rather than just the big felonies; an effort to solve the underlying causes of particular problems; working with local residents and with other government agencies to respond to crime and disorder. In the public's mind, community policing also taps nostalgia for the tough but friendly beat cop who knew everyone in the neighborhood and kept them in line with a sharp word.
Under Mayor Dinkins, Commissioner Lee Brown aimed to flood New York with highly visible beat cops, who would be local problem solvers, community organizers, and liaisons to other agencies. In reality, poorly trained young foot patrolmen wandered aimlessly over their territory, without knowing what they were supposed to be doing. "The only clear thing about the mission in those days was the beat book," recalls Patrick Harnett, then division commander in the Bronx. Officers abandoned their beats to waste two hours a day in the station house, recording the community meetings they attended and community contacts they made that day. The area each cop was supposed to cover was so vast that some neighborhoods never saw their community-policing officer at all. The cops themselves often joined the program because they could set their own schedule—which somehow always ended up 8:00 to 5:00, Monday through Friday.
Commanders in the city's highest-crime neighborhoods soon saw that Brown's community-policing idea was simply the wrong program at the wrong time. "There were 2,200 homicides a year, and cops were devoting hours to cleaning up junkyards," recalls former chief of department Louis Anemone, then a Bronx division commander. "It was sad." Says Harnett: "Brown's community policing used the social worker model at a time when Rome was burning."
MYTH 2: THE NYPD JUNKED COMMUNITY POLICING AND STARTED MERELY “THROWING OFFICERS” AT CRIME.
If a key component of community policing is problem solving, New York's internationally heralded Compstat process, developed by Anemone and Jack Maple in 1994, is the most refined community-policing program around, in sharp contrast with Commissioner Brown's unfocused efforts. The twice-weekly Compstat meetings, in which top department brass grill precinct commanders about crime in their precincts with the aid of computerized crime maps, are nothing other than high-pressure problem-solving sessions. In them, for the first time, the department's chiefs and local commanders began sharing information and bringing all the department's intellectual resources to bear on problems. "People were amazed at the resulting creativity," recalls the Kennedy School of Government's Frank Hartman, who was a consultant to the NYPD at the time. "Arrests were not the criterion, but rather: have you solved the problem?" By the end of 1994, district attorneys, U.S. attorneys, probation and parole officers, and federal agents were attending Compstat meetings to share information and coordinate crime fighting.
Giuliani's first police commissioner, William Bratton, reproduces a typical Jack Maple Compstat interrogation in his book, Turnaround: "I want to know why those shootings are still happening in that housing project! What have we done to stop it? Did we hand out fliers to everybody? . . . Did we run a warrant check on every address at every project, and did we relentlessly pursue those individuals? . . . What are we doing with parole violators? Of the 964 people on parole in the 75th Precinct, do we know the different administrative restrictions on each one, so when we interview them we can hold it over their heads? And if not, why?" While the NYPD's critics praise other cities' departments for such things as targeted warrant checks, parole crackdowns, and interagency collaboration, New York's innovations led the field in just those areas.
Far from "throwing people at problems," the NYPD used Compstat to target its resources with pinpoint accuracy—even building by building. Commanders could direct quality-of-life enforcement at shooting hot spots, knowing that they'd pick up gun toters that way. With similar strategic thinking, Bratton directed officers to pursue all accomplices in gun crimes, to seek out suppliers, and to ask all arrestees where to get guns in the city. Police had estimated that there were as many as 2 million illegal guns in New York when Bratton took command, but by August 1995, the proportion of arrested suspects toting guns was 39 percent lower than in 1993, because people were afraid to carry.
The results were unprecedented—anywhere. Crime dropped 12 percent in 1994, compared with 1.1 percent in the rest of country. Homicides fell 19.8 percent, compared with 5 percent nationally. For each of the next six years, crime continued its freefall.
Remarkably, NYPD critics object that Compstat is not real "problem solving." According to naysayer Rana Sampson, a police consultant in San Diego and an inevitable Fox Butterfield source, Compstat policing relies on police "bodies," not "brains." Its analytic time frame is too short. Real problem solving, Sampson and others say, corrects the underlying environmental conditions that lead to crime, rather than simply enforcing the way to public safety.
The ideal type of problem solving that such critics envision would have been wildly irrelevant for 1990s New York. Emeritus law professor Herman Goldstein, the original theorist of "problem-oriented policing" and another frequent Butterfield source, describes a typical problem-solving project he is overseeing: a "very penetrating academic study" of thefts from vehicles in parking structures in Charlottesville, Virginia (population: 40,000, the size of the NYPD; homicides in 1998: one). For each parking facility, he is making an "in-depth study of physical design, the quality of the fencing, lighting, whether there are attendants on duty, and whether they are paid." To do the study well will take a "long time." Eventually, Goldstein hopes to establish whether, for example, the highest-risk facilities are less well fenced. Then, he says, "we can play around with altering the conditions to decrease the theft."
New York's problems could not wait for "penetrating academic studies." As Jack Maple replied, when accused of being too adversarial in the Compstat sessions: "I don't have time to be nice." I asked Goldstein whether facing several thousand murders a year creates a sense of urgency that cannot afford lengthy academic studies. And with gun violence, for example, what is there to study other than precisely what Compstat targeted: the sources of illegal guns, the networks of suppliers and users? "New York is entirely different," Goldstein admits. "With violent crime, the primary need can be police expertise, but you still need community members to come forward." Too bad he didn't tell Fox Butterfield that.
Though dedicated to problem solving, Bratton explicitly rejected the idea that the beat cop should be the main neighborhood problem solver. No green recruit could take on the problems of a complex Gotham neighborhood, he said. Bratton's problem solvers were the savvy, experienced precinct commanders, whom he unflaggingly held accountable for results. He also discarded the promise of a cop on every block, instead concentrating patrolmen on commercial avenues and at transportation hubs, where crime actually happened.
Finally, he rejected the standard rhetoric of the community partnering with the police to solve crime, at least violent crime. Bratton's policing—and his successor, Howard Safir's—is unapologetically expert-driven. The citizen's role is to provide information to the cops, help set priorities, and obey the rules—though the police do have continuous contacts with their constituents. But New York never created a formal apparatus of citywide citizen crime-solving meetings, as have other cities. "If your crime problem is big and violent," says Northwestern University political science professor Wesley Skogan, the nation's foremost academic expert in community policing, "citizens should stay home." Citizens are "good at clean-up," he says, such as nuisance abatement and beautification. But for coming up with tactics to take out a drug gang, that's for the police.
MYTH 3: THE NEW YORK POLICE ARE NOT INVOLVED WITH THE COMMUNITY.
Try telling that to residents of a Model Block in Far Rockaway—part of a high-intensity police program to push criminals out of some of the most crime- and drug-ridden blocks in the city. I asked a group of Model Block mothers how they would change the NYPD. Blank silence. Then one woman volunteered: "We don't have no problems. The police respond immediately. They listen immediately to community concerns." Do these mothers read the reports of police harassment? "Every day; but thank God, where I live, we don't have it," the same woman answered. "I don't believe the reports," another said. "They want attention, that's the way I see it." What about Al Sharpton? "Al Sharpton doesn't speak for us," a third said. "He doesn't come to Far Rockaway. Our precinct is more like family than a precinct; our officers spend more time in the community than at home."
In precincts throughout the city, commanding officers attend community and church meetings almost daily. Says Jean-Pierre Louis, who runs an umbrella organization of Haitian community groups and churches in Flatbush: "The police are definitely willing to listen at a local level. We don't have any problem." Father Joseph Weber, pastor of the Holy Innocents Church in the 70th Precinct, where Abner Louima was assaulted, says that "churches in Flatbush have an active positive relation with their precincts. The commanders are very sensitive to our needs. But that is not what most people want to hear," he adds sardonically.
In the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights, where two and a half days of violent rioting occurred under Mayor Dinkins, cops reach out to kids, taking them rollerskating, coaching them, attending youth meetings and talent shows, and opening up the precinct's computers to children after school. Many officers spend Christmas giving out toys to hospitalized kids. In the Bronx's 43rd Precinct (where Amadou Diallo was shot), Detective Elliot Parisi can't stop talking about the teens he mentors in the Boy Scouts. "I can't begin to express how much those kids mean to me," he tells me. "You gotta see the beauty in these kids' hearts."
Though the department doesn't trumpet the rhetoric of community problem solving, community-police collaborations happen all the time. In a typical operation, the 67th Precinct's commander, Deputy Inspector Harry Wedin, is working with "all the good people who want to take back" the building where Officer Morales was shot at on my ride-along. He urged the landlord to post NO TRESPASSING signs throughout the complex, which cops enforce vigorously. He deputized residents to call in drug activity. Undercover officers were mapping the building's entire drug operation until an officer got shot. Too "enforcement-oriented," as community-policing purists would charge? What is the department supposed to do? Cops can't "reengineer" a massive, 70-year-old apartment complex to "reduce opportunities" for dealing; they can't spend months studying lighting or fencing, when the real problem is an infestation of criminals.
None of these local interactions gets reported, because the New York press almost never covers precincts—which is where the most positive police-community work occurs—unless something goes dreadfully wrong. The one time in recent memory that the New York Times wrote about a positive precinct event, it inoculated it with a strong dose of hatred toward the police.
In June 1999, the paper made it out to the 71st Precinct's fifth annual community picnic, featuring pony rides, cops flipping hamburgers, and lots of warm feelings toward the police. That is not, however, how the paper chose either to open or to end the story. Instead, after briefly and ironically presenting the scene through the eyes of the precinct commander ("a world that looked sunny and fine"), the Times gave voice to a sour onlooker, Gordon Franklin, 32, a road manager for the rap group Gangstarr. "It's propaganda," he spits out angrily.
Now what is Gangstarr? The Times doesn't say, but it is a group known for its anti-white lyrics. Its former lead singer, "GURU," once broke a beer bottle on a woman's head, smacked her in the face, held her at gunpoint, wounded and bleeding, and refused to drive her to the hospital. Reason: she had pointed out his hypocrisy in dating white women while bashing whites in his songs. One might guess that Franklin shares his group's racial outlook, since he immediately invokes Louis Farrakhan: how would the police be behaving, he asks accusingly, "if this were a Louis Farrakhan event?"
Only after getting Franklin's perspective do we hear from the picnic participants, who swear that police-community relations are much improved in Crown Heights since the 1991 riots. Just so the reader doesn't come away with the wrong impression, the Times makes sure to end the article with Franklin. Pointing his finger at the white precinct commander, who is standing nearby with his back turned, Franklin blurts out "in a moment of bitter anger": "You know, my feeling is I'd knock him out."
Now maybe Franklin is a fine, upstanding member of the community, who hates the police because they have so abused innocent him. More likely, he represents a breed of professional cop-haters who profit from fomenting more hatred of the police. For the Times, however, he is a valid barometer of community opinion, and his is the message that lingers.
Could the police do more outreach? Of course. And the more they do, the more goodwill they will create. But they also have to maintain public safety. After all, in the Lee Brown era, a Bronx borough chief remembers, "cops were shaking everyone's hand but not getting anything accomplished."
MYTH 4: THE NYPD HAS CREATED A “CLIMATE OF FEAR.”
It is a staple of NYPD reporting that people now fear the police more than criminals. Without any effort, I found examples aplenty of the opposite.
Natasha, a petite 20-year-old with long dark hair tumbling out of a head scarf, watches the police cordon off the building where Ricki Elam allegedly shot at Officer Morales. "They say cops are bad, but they put their lives on the line," she says decisively. "They're not here to harass you; they're here to protect you. Ordinary people don't help you like that." Three boys walk past; one snarls "bastards" in the direction of some officers nearby. "He needs to get his little ass into school," Natasha retorts.
It's the criminals who worry her, not the cops. "This whole complex is filled with bad people," she says, "people who sell guns to teenagers, dealers in each building who have 13-year-olds buying drugs for them. I've seen everything." When Natasha observes a crime, she calls the police. "I could get killed for that," she reflects.
Round-cheeked Robert, 13, was on his way to get a haircut with his little sister when the shooting started. He seconds Natasha's views. "We can't wait to get out of here; it's too scary." Do the police harass you? I ask. "I think it's good that they stop people," says Robert, an Explorer Scout. "The police should be stricter."
There is a huge reservoir of support for the NYPD, as easily accessible to a reporter as the hostility that alone gets covered. Even some people caught up in the enforcement system are good-natured about the police. Vladimir Lamarre is sitting on a bench in Brooklyn's 67th Precinct waiting to speak to a detective; a "lady" had accused him of bad-mouthing her in Creole. What does he think about the police? "They're all right," says the 25-year-old city parks worker. "Once you don't do any trouble, you don't get any problem." Do they treat you politely? "Yeah."
The point is, one could as easily write an NYPD story filled with people like Natasha as one filled with people like Gangstarr's Gordon Franklin. Which would be correct? Polls suggest that there are more Natashas out there than Gordon Franklins, and that—until the Louima, Diallo, and Dorismond incidents—support for the NYPD was rising under the Giuliani-Bratton regime. In the spring of 1996, an Empire State Survey found that 73 percent of New Yorkers had a positive view of police, compared with 37 percent in June 1992. By 1998, a federal Bureau of Justice Statistics survey showed 84 percent of New Yorkers age 16 and older satisfied with the police, including a surprisingly high 77 percent of black New Yorkers. But most New Yorkers experience the police primarily through the press, and for the last year or more the press has relentlessly told them only one story.
Plenty of anti-cop sentiment existed before the Giuliani era, of course, and when Bratton-Safir policing actually began enforcing the law vigorously, some people came to dislike the police more intensely, as family members or neighbors got arrested. Fanned by the Al Sharpton-New York Times winds, their anti-police feelings burned all the hotter.
And neighborhoods of people who feel this way make the NYPD's job harder. "Last Saturday night, a 23-year-old boy was shot and killed," a squad commander in Brooklyn tells me bitterly, by way of illustration. "His friends were with him; everyone knows who killed him. The only person who cared was the mother. I asked her to tell his friends to come and help solve the murder. She asked them, but they refused—his best friends. So I try to find them. One takes off, running. I'm chasing the kid, and people are blocking me. If the community really cared, I'd solve every murder. The community's only 'the community' when they want to trash the police. I attend every wake, I embrace every victim of crime, do whatever I can to solve the pain, and the rest of the community stays away. No one cares." Sums up crime strategist Jack Maple: "If we could get 'the community' to press charges and show up in court, we'd be batting a home run."
MYTH 5: QUALITY-OF-LIFE ENFORCEMENT IS DISCRIMINATORY.
In a remarkably misinformed New Republic cover story last April, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen suggests that quality-of-life enforcement discriminates against minorities, because poverty forces them to conduct more of their life, including vice, outdoors. He should listen to Luz, from 139th Street in Harlem. The police enforce a lower standard of community civility above 110th Street, where Harlem begins, than below, she complains. "Sometimes the struggle is: do the police take quality-of-life issues seriously enough?" she says. "Let's say someone wants to barbecue in the middle of Broadway. The police's attitude is: 'Maybe it's legal.'"
A bleeding heart like Rosen would argue that of course it should be legal. Where else will these poor outdoor chefs go? Luz's attitude is: they're encroaching on our common public space, blowing smoke in our windows; cart them off. There are no more insistent advocates of order-maintenance policing than the law-abiding residents of dangerous neighborhoods like Luz. And there are many thousands of them.
Community-policing theorists insist that cops must understand how intensely citizens care about the raucous kids or intimidating beggars on their own corner—more even than about felony reduction. But Giuliani's NYPD needed no coaching on that front. One of its earliest crime strategies, "Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York," targeted "street prostitution, aggressive panhandlers, sales of alcohol to minors, graffiti vandalism, public urination, unlicensed peddlers, reckless bicyclists, and earsplitting noise churned out by 'boom box' cars, loud motorcycles, clubs, and spontaneous street parties." When it comes to responding to community priorities—the keystone of community policing—the NYPD was way ahead of the game.
MYTH 6: THE STREET CRIME UNIT AND “STOPPING AND FRISKING” ARE THE VERY ESSENCE OF GIULIANI’S NYPD.
Talk to the architects of New York's anticrime revolution, and the Street Crime Unit never comes up. Nor does stopping and frisking. Yet this tiny unit—less than 1 percent of the city's force—has become the centerpiece of the revisionist history, because four of its members shot Amadou Diallo. And the revisionists portray stopping and frisking as the NYPD's main (and illegitimate) weapon against crime.
In fact, the essence of Giuliani crime-busting is the unprecedented gathering of crime intelligence through the Compstat process, the rigorous follow-up, and the accountability for commanders. It is debriefing all suspects about any unsolved crimes and investigating every shooting as seriously as a murder. It is interagency cooperation. To be sure, officers are instructed to question people stopped for minor offenses, and to arrest and search parole violators, repeat offenders, and wanted persons. This too is part of modern policing's intelligence-gathering strategy.
Cops report that in 1998 they did 138,887 stop and frisks, 85 percent of them on blacks and Hispanics—less than the 89 percent of suspects identified as black and Hispanic by victims. Assuming that police stopped mostly young men, and that they stopped everybody just once, that would mean that they stopped 11.6 percent of all minority males between ten and 45. But press reports insist again and again that the police are stopping the same people numerous, even dozens, of times. Assuming, very conservatively, three stop and frisks per person, that amounts to 3.8 percent of this group—hardly a rampage, and less than the 6 percent of young men that criminologists estimate commit much of the city's crime. The press specializes in blissfully ignorant innuendos about stop and frisks to tar the NYPD. In a 1999 article unfavorably comparing the NYPD with the Boston Police Department, The Economist pointed out portentously that after 1989, Boston required its police to have a "reasonable suspicion" before stopping a suspect. Implication: New York has no such requirement. Well, if Boston waited until 1989 to promulgate that rule, it was sure getting lousy legal advice. The "reasonable suspicion" requirement has been in place since 1968, thanks to a Supreme Court opinion justifying stop and frisks. New York follows that requirement no less than Boston.
MYTH 7: BRATTON-SAFIR STYLE POLICING ENCOURAGES BRUTALITY.
Revisionists sounded this theme early. In April 1995, David Dinkins absurdly complained to Newsday that Bratton and Giuliani "seem to care more about 'kicking ass' than increasing the peace." New York University law professor Paul Chevigny opined to the Los Angeles Times late in 1995 that Giuliani's crime-fighting strategies contain the seeds of police violence. "The military analogy leads to brutality. The military is brutal," he warned darkly.
Here are the facts. Complaints of excessive police force have plunged since former mayor Ed Koch's time, though Koch is now a full-throated member of the anti-NYPD chorus. In 1984, citizens lodged one excessive-force complaint per every seven officers; in 1995, one per every 10; in 1999, one per every 19.
The actual use of force has followed an identical pattern. The number of intentional shootings by the police dropped over 50 percent from 1993 to 1999—while the department grew nearly 40 percent. Fatal shootings by police officers in 1999—11—were at the lowest level since 1973. Compare that number with the nine fatal shootings in 1999 by San Diego's 2,064 sworn officers—a whopping rate of nearly five per 1,000 cops. The rate of fatal shootings per 1,000 officers in New York is .28, compared with .96 in Chicago—home of the most extensive community-policing experiment in the country; 1.14 in Washington, D.C.; and 1.68 in Houston, presided over by Mayor Lee Brown, New York mayor Dinkins's former police commissioner.
To be sure, overall civilian complaints against the police rose in 1994 and 1995, as Giuliani increased the force by 23.6 percent and directed it to start enforcing the law vigorously. But from 1995 to 1999, civilian complaints per officer declined 22 percent, and they went down over 10 percent more in the first four months of 2000. The department's incessant training in civilian relations seems to be paying off.
Early in the Bratton regime, Chief Patrick Kelleher built up the relatively toothless Internal Affairs Bureau, tasked with rooting out police corruption and brutality, into the most elite of all the NYPD's departments. Giuliani's and Safir's response to the Louima torture—basically cleaning out an entire precinct—was unprecedented in its harshness and swiftness. Bratton publicly humiliated members of the 30th Precinct found to have stolen from victims and suspects. Safir has fired more officers for misconduct than the previous two commissioners combined. Two tragic shootings over six years and one undisputed act of brutality hardly show a force out of control. All departments make mistakes, usually without such relentless criticism as has engulfed the NYPD; but then, those departments are not headed by a mayor who is anathema to the liberal establishment.
MYTH 8: NEW YORK COULD HAVE SOLVED ITS CRIME AND COMMUNITY-RELATIONS PROBLEMS BY MODELING ITSELF ON OTHER DEPARTMENTS.
If only we had policed like _____ (insert your favorite city), lament the revisionists, we could have achieved our extraordinary crime drops without police killings and community friction. No city is too small, none has a demographic or a crime profile too wildly dissimilar from New York's, to serve as an accusatory foil. The Times's Butterfield ludicrously holds up Fort Wayne, Indiana—population: 200,000, a little larger than a large New York City precinct—as a useful model. Fort Wayne, he tells us, divided itself into 227 neighborhoods, each with a liaison officer to other city agencies. Following that model would require dividing New York, absurdly, into 8,286 community-policing neighborhoods. Fort Wayne cut murders by 50 percent from 1994 to 1998, says Butterfield sharply, but incorrectly. Actually, it lowered homicides 36 percent, from 38 in 1994 to 24 in 1998. Well, New York lowered murders 59 percent, from 1,561 to 633.
The comparisons always supposedly show that "community policing" fueled these other departments' success. Somehow, community-policing failures never get trumpeted. Take Chicago, whose community-policing program, the country's most long-standing, Butterfield improbably puts forth as a "thriving" model. In fact, Chicago has done a lackluster job of both crime reduction and community relations. While New York cut its crime rate 44 percent from 1994 to 1999, Chicago reduced its crime rate just 18.6 percent. New York decreased murders 65 percent from 1990 to 1997, compared with Chicago's 10 percent. The crime rate per capita remains 225 percent higher in Chicago than in New York; with half Gotham's population, the Windy City has about the same number of murders annually.
Whereas 84 percent of New Yorkers age 16 and older were satisfied with the police in 1998, only 80 percent of Chicagoans were. More black New Yorkers (77 percent) than black Chicagoans (69 percent) approved of the police. Police shootings produce the same charges of rampant racism in Chicago as in New York.
Getting Chicagoans to show up at beat meetings, wherein the community and the police are supposed to solve problems jointly, remains a continuing challenge. Even Mayor Richard Daley, who inaugurated community policing with great fanfare in 1993, no longer seems so enthusiastic about it. As a Chicago lieutenant, quoted by Northwestern's Wes Skogan, put it, "The spark has gone out."
Baltimore is an even more cautionary community-policing flop. Ex-police commissioner Thomas Frazier used to brag that his force was the only gang in town that could save a child, run a recreation center, and get an addict into treatment, according to the Baltimore Sun. He had assigned 88 officers to the indisputably worthy Police Athletic League but only five to tracking down the 50,000 suspects loose on arrest warrants. He effectively decriminalized drug possession.
The results? Baltimore's per-capita homicide rate, fourth in the nation in 1999, was seven times the national average and five times New York's. Baltimore ranked first nationally in robbery, fourth in assault, and tenth in rape. Its cops shot civilians at four times the rate of New York's officers. Drug dealers had become so shameless that they refused to move when asked by a police officer.
Martin O'Malley won the mayoralty in this predominantly black city last year by promising zero tolerance for crime. He brought in New York's Jack Maple to sketch out the sort of smart, information-based policing that drove down Gotham's crime, and he recently tapped Edward Norris, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for operations, as commissioner. Thanks to the constant misinformation about New York-style policing in the New York and national press, Norris faces a public-relations struggle to give Baltimore the policing it needs.
Chicago and Baltimore are not rare exceptions. A 1994 study of 11 community-policing experiments found a mere 50 percent success rate. Worse, as of 1997, only one of the 11 projects had survived. Political scientist Skogan cautions that the limited scope of documented evidence so far makes community policing vulnerable to the charge that "it is mostly a public-relations triumph."
Instead of ever mentioning places like these, NYPD-bashers usually cite San Diego and Boston to disparage New York. Like New York, these cities have had astounding and comparable crime drops since the 1990s, and they vie with Gotham for first place nationally, depending when you start counting and what you measure. The Times's Butterfield picks 1991 to 1998, when the murder rate dropped 76.4 percent in San Diego, 70.6 percent in New York, and 69.3 percent in Boston. Measure from 1990, however, and New York's 72 percent murder-rate drop edges out San Diego's 71 percent, while Boston tops both, at 75 percent. Measure from 1994, Giuliani's first year in office, to 1999—and look at all FBI index crimes, not just homicide—and New York leads not just all three but all big cities, with a 44 percent crime-rate drop. San Diego is in third place nationally at 38.6 percent and Boston in fourth place at 34.5 percent. Even after the reduction, though, Boston's crime rate remains 40 percent higher than New York's.
Clearly, all three cities deserve enormous credit. But where did they start from? In 1993, the year before Giuliani took office, San Diego, with a murder rate a mere two-fifths that of New York, had 133 killings; Boston, with a murder rate two-thirds that of New York, had 98 killings. New York had 1,946. Clearly, New York was facing a much larger problem. Bringing down nearly 2,000 murders 67 percent, as New York did through 1998, requires preventing 1,313 homicides (not to mention all the lives saved in the intervening years), 14 times as many as the 91 homicides San Diego fended off to bring its murders down to 42 in 1998.
The people most closely involved in the three cities' successes scoff at comparing them. "This is why I get aggravated with criminologists and reporters like Butterfield," says William Bratton, hardly a defender of New York's current policing. "They do reports from each other." As Boston's police commissioner, Bratton began that city's community-policing efforts before Giuliani recruited him to head the NYPD. "We did things very differently in Boston, because it is a different city. As for San Diego, it has nowhere near the density of New York. It's not teeming with people. It has a different population mix and a higher income level."
San Diego has embraced the Goldsteinian problem-solving method to great effect. Working with residents, beat officers analyze the preconditions of crime, above all property crime, and try to prevent recurrence. But this mostly non-minority, affluent, beach-side paradise, with a population 16 percent that of New York's, has never had a serious crime problem. It has never had gun violence to speak of, says Al Guaderrema of the San Diego Police's Crime Prevention Unit. And it has benefited enormously from the Border Patrol's crackdown on the San Diego-Mexico border over the last several years. San Diego's "most difficult crime situation in the last eight years has been thefts from autos and auto thefts," he says—a far cry from New York's gorgeous mosaic of felonies. "What works in San Diego wouldn't work in New York," says John Welter, San Diego's Assistant Chief of Policy and Planning. "Broken windows needed addressing in New York," he says, but not in San Diego, which has never had that degree of street disorder. Similarly, San Diego could come the closest of any big city to driving authority and discretion down to the beat cop level because its force is a manageable 2,000 men, not Gotham's 40,000. (Nevertheless, recall that San Diego police fatally shoot civilians at 15 times the rate of the NYPD.)
Boston is another great success story, but also one of difficult application to New York, say its prime architects. "The cities are in completely different scales," observes Captain Robert Dunford, who heads a precinct in the Dorchester neighborhood. With 550,000 people, Boston is half the size of San Diego and less than one-quarter the size of Brooklyn. And its own leaders are quick to acknowledge the NYPD's accomplishments. "New York was an exemplar in the Bratton era," says Jim Jordan, the Boston Police Department's director of strategic planning. "We learned accountability from New York."
In the early 1990s, Boston's chief crime problem was highly specific: youth gangs were shooting each other up, mostly in three small neighborhoods with a combined adult population of 104,000. Police estimated that only 150 to 250 kids were committing most of the city's violent crime.
The Boston cops, therefore, could develop a sharply focused strategy. In partnership with federal prosecutors, they gave gang members an ultimatum: use a gun, even just get caught with one bullet, and you're doing federal time—big. Taking a cue from New York, the police directed quality-of-life enforcement at the gangs. And most famously, the police and a small group of minority ministers—the Ten-Point Coalition, led by the charismatic Eugene Rivers—began collaborating on preventing youth violence. Teams of police and ministers visited schools and homes sending the message: stay out of trouble or pay the price.
Attend a Wednesday morning meeting of the Ten-Point Coalition at the elegant olive Victorian house where Eugene Rivers conducts his street-savvy youth ministry, and you'll hear statements that make you think you're in another universe from New York. Coalition member Reverend Larry Mays is presiding, and cops, probation officers, and officials of the schools and social work agencies are in attendance. The meeting focuses on a recent surge in youth violence. "The two pillars of the drop in youth violence are the preachers and the police," Mays observes. "The third pillar—the parents—is really frustrating." Mays's statement is typical of Ten-Point candor. Adds Rivers: "There's certain things the police and the mayor can't say [about personal responsibility]; the community has to say it. But the community is in denial."
The ministers, however, have no problem saying those things, loudly and often. The Coalition is currently under attack for a flyer it distributed in the violent Cape Verdean African community: ATTENTION CAPE VERDEAN YOUTH! YOU BRING THE NOISE, YOU GET THE NOISE. WELCOME TO AMERICA. "The Boston police said: 'Count us out, this is too provocative,'" laughs Ten-Point member Mark Scott. Rivers once announced at a middle school: "The Bloods and the Crips will be crushed." Had the police made such a statement, denunciations would have thundered down.
So cordial is the relation between the ministers and the police that the ministers sing the cops' praises: "When the police do the right thing, you have to do everything you can to make sure it gets coverage," pastor Ray Hammond of the Bethel AME Church tells me. And so great is the trust between the two groups that the ministers point out the worst young malefactors to the police, while, on the ministers' say-so, the police go easy on first-time offenders whom the ministers volunteer to straighten out themselves.
The NYPD actively cultivates relations with the minority clergy, too, but it has yet to find any ministers willing to take as public a position on personal responsibility as those in Boston. "The major difference between New York and Boston's black leadership is the willingness to address black-on-black crime," explains Eugene Rivers. To the Boston ministers, the moral cowardice of New York's black leaders is obvious; only New Yorkers don't see it. "I have no comment on Al Sharpton," says Reverend Mark Scott acerbically. "But it erodes one's moral authority when it is blatantly obvious that crime is a problem—that most people being shot are not shot by cops—and you're silent on the issue."
University of Pennsylvania criminologist John DiIulio, under the auspices of the Manhattan Institute (City Journal's publisher), tried to found a New York Ten-Point Coalition, without success. "No New York ministers wanted to get involved," he says tersely. Commissioner Howard Safir has asked clergy to talk about black-on-black crime and to acknowledge that the real danger in poor neighborhoods comes not from cops—"but every time I'm called a racist," he says. Perhaps Safir is the wrong person to raise these issues, but critics who use Boston as a cudgel to beat the NYPD should suggest a list of leaders who are prepared to ask the hard questions about family responsibility and youth violence. The police would undoubtedly love to work with them.
This isn't to say that Boston has solved the problem of race and policing. Complaining about harassment for "driving while black" is a "standard routine" for blacks during traffic stops, says traffic officer Kenny Gee. And in a park just down the street from the Dorchester police station, you can hear plenty of Gordon Franklin-esque hostility toward the police. "The majority are total garbage, just garbage," says John, a 32-year-old public works employee who sports a big, gold pistol charm around his neck. John is probably no more reliable a judge of policing than Gangstarr's Gordon Franklin; the New York press, however, would treat him as an expert.
And for all the fanfare around Boston's police-clergy collaboration, Boston's civilian complaint rate—used by The Economist as a cudgel against New York—is virtually indistinguishable from New York's: one complaint per 7.7 officers in Boston in 1999, compared with one complaint per eight officers in New York.
San Diego has its share of racial tensions, too. Last August, San Diego cops fatally shot a former NFL player, Demetrius DuBose. The subsequent grandstanding would be familiar to any New Yorker. "The Urban League joins the rest of the African-American community in denouncing the legal lynching of another African-American citizen," said president John W. Johnson. "When will the killings of our black sisters and brothers cease?" The head of the Black Contractors Association, Abdur-Rahim Hameed, suggested that "African-Americans would be better off shooting it out than being shot down in cold blood." Last February, after the San Diego police killed a homeless man, participants in a community forum claimed that black kids were growing up scared of police—a charge that would make any New Yorker feel right at home.
Yet in San Diego, as in Boston, there are also voices of moderation that are all too rare in New York. A black San Diego councilman, George Stevens, publicly rejected the charges that Demetrius DuBose was "lynched." "There's not one piece of evidence that these officers shot Mr. DuBose because he's black," he told a community meeting. No New York black leader said anything comparable after Amadou Diallo was shot.
NYPD brass are well aware of the criticism that they should police more like other cities' departments. But many top New York cops have reservations about those cities' highly touted strategies. They think that Boston, for example, came perilously close to a "deal with the devil," in Louis Anemone's words, in singling out gun violence as the one infraction that would bring down the full weight of the law. They wonder whether the message was: we'll regard anything short of gun violence more leniently. There's some evidence this could be so. A prominent youth outreach worker who helped forge Boston's approach to youth violence told a Kennedy School researcher: "I'm not even going to talk to a kid about stopping selling drugs until I can get him a job." He went on to laud the Boston police for "overlook[ing] a lot of people on purpose, because they weren't violent criminals. They stuck to their word, . . . and that showed a lot of respect."
It is that kind of relativizing—"how can you ask a kid to stop selling drugs when there are no jobs out there?"—that worries New York cops. Boston police captains brag about their jobs programs and other social programs as much as about their enforcement strategies. Their department has unquestionably embraced more of a social services approach to youth crime than the NYPD has, and it always presents its tough message of law enforcement in conjunction with an offer of social services. Since 1996, the department has distributed over $2.2 million in federal funds to community groups, a sure-fire way of gaining support.
In a world of mushy terminology, it is refreshing to find some clear disagreements. "We're a little resistant to the Boston model, because we don't think we need it," says Gary McCarthy, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Operations. "I'm skeptical of social services, because I've seen the effect of enforcement. Social services won't stop people from wanting to make the quick buck. People are lazy. What does work is when you lock a person up, he's not committing any more robberies."
McCarthy is no knee-jerk hard-liner. He is a hero in Washington Heights for creating the city's first Model Block on 163rd Street, the hub of the East Coast drug trade in the early 1990s. After taking out an entire local drug operation, McCarthy and his officers formed tenant associations in each building and worked with the community to clean up the block and "instill civic pride," he says. The results have been spectacular: in 1992, the 34th Precinct set a city record for homicides, with 120; last year, the area had eight. "It was like the sun came out," recalls McCarthy. "I saw a 12-year-old trying to ride a bike for the first time in his life, because he had never been allowed out before."
So McCarthy is hardly averse to working with the community, but he doesn't believe in offering social services or a government-funded job as a quid pro quo for not committing crime. The Model Block is not a social services program; it simply helps people take responsibility for their neighborhood.
After so much relentless criticism, the NYPD is in crisis. Demoralization, especially in the Bronx, is dangerously high. "Cops have to be believers," says a Bronx borough commander. "It doesn't get any worse than the Bronx District Attorney comparing the Diallo shooting with a drive-by shooting. The officers are afraid to engage the bad guys, knowing that they might become the bad guys." A patrolman remarks: "Knowing what I do now, I'd never take this job again. I love the job, but you get all the racist abuse. You're always wrong."
The price of such demoralization is steep. A plainclothes officer in Brooklyn gives the street perspective. "This place is getting busy again," he says. "Guns are back on the street, because guys know they won't get tossed." In the Bronx, homicides are up 60 percent this year. And the mauling of women after the Puerto Rican Day parade this June gave New Yorkers a brutal refresher course in order-maintenance policing: when, fearful of racism charges, the cops back away from enforcing the law on the so-called small things—public drinking, drug use, defacement of property, litter—the chaos that lurks beneath the surface of this huge metropolis can explode.
To combat the revisionists, Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Safir should throw open the department, now bunkered in and defensive, calling in the press and community leaders to see Compstat sessions and precinct-community programs, and showing off the Police Academy's innovative training programs. By the same token, they should make straightforward acknowledgments on those occasions when cops make serious mistakes. But the longer the revisionists continue their crusade against the police, the further New York's crime-fighting legacy is likely to erode.
Want to be a star reporter for the New York Times? Worried about the pressure to come up with new material? Don't worry! Follow the Fox Butterfield method of journalism and cut new research to a minimum. Simply recycle your material annually, sprinkle on a few new errors each year, and quote experts unqualified to pass judgment on the subject.
For the last two years, Fox Butterfield, the Times's national crime reporter, has criticized the NYPD for not policing like other cities. On April 4, 1999, while New York was still convulsed with the Times-led Diallo frenzy, Butterfield announced that "New York City has grimly discovered there is a price for the tough law enforcement tactics that have led to its steep drop in crime: estrangement between police and citizens." New York's fatal error, he claimed, was in abandoning community policing. He proceeded to trot out a handful of cities-above all, San Diego-that he claimed had used community policing to achieve crime drops comparable with New York's while improving community relations.
Exactly 11 months later, during the controversy over the Patrick Dorismond police shooting, Butterfield dusted off last year's article and reran it. Oh sure, he added some new cities and exacerbated the error-ridden caricature of the NYPD, but the basic tale was the same:
1999, admiringly quoting San Diego police chief Jerry Sanders: "Our basic premise is: we don't have enough police officers to do it all, so we need community participation."
2000, quoting Chief Sanders again: "Our basic premise was, we didn't have enough police officers to do it all, so we needed the participation by the community."
1999: Sanders "measures progress as much by an annual survey of public satisfaction with the police as by the actual reduction in the crime rate. The most recent survey . . . showed approval at 89%, he said."
2000: "In addition to using crime figures, Mr. Sanders decided to measure his department's success with an annual survey of public satisfaction. The most recent one showed approval at 89%, he said."
1999: "Based on the ideas of residents themselves, the police divided the city into 99 neighborhoods, with a police team assigned to each."
2000: "After a series of meetings with citizens, the police divided the city into 99 neighborhoods, with a police team assigned to each."
1999: "San Diego has only 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents, compared with 5 per 1,000 in New York City."
2000: "San Diego has 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents, compared with 5 per 1,000 in New York City."
1999: "Another component in community policing is 1,200 volunteers, many of them retired people who receive police training, wear police-like uniforms, and drive around in official vehicles."
2000: "The city also recruited 1,200 volunteers, many of them retired. . . . [T]hey receive police training, wear police-like uniforms, and drive official vehicles."
Butterfield also has his favorite criminologists, some of whom have either total recall or a limited vocabulary:
1999: "Rana Sampson, a former police sergeant in the city, who is director of public safety for the University of San Diego, said: 'What NYPD did was throw people at the problems. You can't put a cop on every corner, and do you really want to live in a society with a cop on very corner?'"
2000: "Rana Sampson, a former police sergeant in New York who is director of public safety for the University of San Diego, said: 'What the NYPD did was throw people at the problem, putting cops on every corner, but who wants to live in a society like that?'"
Butterfield never got around to checking whether his good friend Sampson still worked at the University of San Diego in 2000; she didn't.
University of Wisconsin law professor emeritus Herman Goldstein also makes regular appearances. In 1999, Goldstein scolded Giuliani and Bratton for eliminating community policing and investing heavily in police operations. "This was almost coming full cycle back to the 1960s," he said, "to the idea that the police alone can fight crime." In 2000, he told Butterfield enigmatically that a "community gets the policing it deserves, or demands," a statement that would seem to put the "blame" for New York policing on New Yorkers themselves, rather than on the usual Butterfield villains: Giuliani, Bratton, and Safir. Yet Goldstein had harsh words for the leaders as well: "They tried to do all this too quickly without the investment of years of groundwork in refined training and supervision and discipline. Historically, this is a prescription for runaway police organizations."
Before addressing the fallacies in these experts' opinions, let's examine their qualifications for pronouncing so definitively on New York. I reached Goldstein in his Madison, Wisconsin, home. What do you know of New York policing? I asked him. "Not much," he said frankly. "I'm not studying New York at all. I just know it from a distance." I wasn't sure I had heard correctly. You haven't studied the department? No, he hadn't. "I understand the complexity of these matters. To speak authoritatively, you need to know more." He hasn't been to New York at all to study it since Bratton took over.
Goldstein advocates something called problem-solving policing. Arguably, New York is now an exemplar of creative problem solving. Isn't Compstat a laser beam for problem solving? I asked. "It may well be that Compstat does problem solving, I don't know."
Isn't New York trying to address quality-of-life problems, just as Goldstein recommended in his 1990 book? "I'm not saying that New York is not doing something. I would never say that, because I don't know."
Hasn't Giuliani introduced innovative programs to bring down crime, like domestic violence prevention? He was getting peeved by now. "As I told you at the onset, I don't know what they're doing."
How then did he make such specific accusations against the NYPD, suggesting it was a "runaway" organization? "Did I say 'runaway organization'? I was speaking more generally in the New York Times," he explains.
Goldstein even disclaims the central thesis of the Butterfield articles: that one can compare cities on their policing. "It's impossible to compare cities," he says.
Yet it must be a hallmark of criminologists to speak authoritatively on matters they have never studied. For even as Goldstein was acknowledging his lack of knowledge of the NYPD, he continued the attack. "Broken windows became transformed into an aggressive form of policing under Giuliani," he said. "This occurred when they found out that turnstile jumpers had weapons." Now this happens to be the wildly ignorant thesis of Jeffrey Rosen's April 10 New Republic cover story. So the misinformation loop runs like this: criminologists borrow from journalists, who then borrow from them, ad infinitum, until they have created an impregnable wall of untruth.
Rana Sampson, who accuses the NYPD of merely "throwing people at the problem," shares Goldstein's liberating lack of knowledge. Butterfield identifies her as a former NYPD sergeant, without mentioning that she hasn't worked or lived in New York since the late 1980s. For the last seven years-the entire span of the Giuliani period-she has worked in San Diego, absorbing news accounts, no doubt, which make everyone an expert.
Now let's examine these experts' opinions. Rana Sampson criticizes the Giuliani NYPD for "putting cops on every corner." But "who wants to live in a society like that?" she asks. Everything about this proposition is wrong. Trying to put cops on every corner has been a hallmark of the city's allegedly less "aggressive" police eras. The first commissioner to promise a "Cop of the Block" was Patrick Murphy, Mayor John Lindsay's liberal police commissioner, who asked his cops to "rap with the people and make friends." Commissioner Lee Brown also declared that the beat cop was back, and inaugurated a "Cop's Block" program. Mayor David Dinkins started the increase in the size of the force by adding 5,000 new officers.
Far from putting cops everywhere, Bratton did the opposite. He repudiated as unrealistic the promise of a cop on every block and concentrated his forces on trouble spots. But as for no one wanting "to live in a society with a cop on every corner," as Sampson claims, that is in fact the "community's" fondest desire. Go to any precinct community council meeting, and the most frequent and insistent demand is for more, and more visible, police.
Sampson's charge that Bratton merely "threw officers at the problem" shows a complete ignorance of Compstat, which made policing rigorously intelligent and information-driven for the first time.
Goldstein accuses the NYPD of lacking "supervision and discipline" under Bratton. In fact, Bratton was probably the most innovative and successful manager in the department's history. He drove accountability through every corner of the organization. Says Goldstein: the department should have invested "years of groundwork in refined training" before doing "all this" (i.e., crime fighting). What was the city to do while the department spent years in "groundwork"? And what the NYPD started doing was enforcing the law, something the Police Academy supposedly trained the cops to do as raw recruits.
Butterfield adds his own howlers to the article. He accuses Bratton and Giuliani of creating the dread Street Crime Unit, whose mission he misleadingly describes as "stop[ping] large numbers of people in high-crime neighborhoods." In fact, Commissioner Patrick Murphy created the unit in the 1970s to protect cabdrivers and truckers from violence, precisely what the unit is doing today. But it is beneath Butterfield to double-check his prejudices.
Butterfield lauds other cities for "listening" to community concerns regarding quality-of-life issues; when the Giuliani administration takes up such issues, it's not "listening to the community," it's a "crackdown on petty crimes."
The "Why Can't New York Police More Like Fort Wayne?" complaint is not Butterfield's only annual theme. Butterfield is nothing if not efficient. In September 1997, in an article titled "Punitive Damages: Crime Keeps Falling but Prisons Keep on Filling," he asked the mind-bending riddle: If the crime rate keeps falling, "why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?" Over the next year, apparently no one at the Times was able to point out to Butterfield the obvious answer: that crime was falling in part because more people were serving more time. In August 1998, the same Butterfield puzzle appeared on page one: "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops." Eight months later, in "Prison Nation," he pointed out the same insuperable paradox.