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Re-civilize the Streets

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Re-civilize the Streets

Crime is down, but Mayor de Blasio deserves little credit. Autumn 2017
New York
Public safety

Homicides and shootings continue to drop in New York City, even as the city unwinds key policing policies responsible for its record-breaking crime drop since the 1990s. Under pressure from race advocates, the New York Police Department has dramatically cut its pedestrian stops in high-crime neighborhoods. Arrests for public possession of marijuana have fallen by half. Summer 2017 brought the most radical changes yet: the Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys announced that they will no longer prosecute most turnstile jumpers. And a city council law to waive criminal penalties for public drinking and urination, littering, excessive noise, and the violation of public-park curfews was slated for implementation.

Because this rollback of proactive policing has not yet affected New York’s ongoing crime decline (which defies the national post-Ferguson crime increase), critics charge that public-order enforcement is a dispensable crime-fighting tool. They are wrong. The decriminalization of public-order violations, also known as Broken Windows policing,  has not yet been in place long enough to have had an effect on public safety. The NYPD has remained fully committed to its revolutionary data-analysis system known as CompStat: the weekly meetings in which top brass grill precinct commanders about crime patterns on their watch. The maintenance of CompStat accountability is the primary reason that crime remains low. But New York’s crime decline is now being carried along by another factor: gentrification, which occurred only because of the policing induced crime drop.

Given the demographics of street crime, driven by vastly different rates of out-of wedlock childbearing, an alteration in white–black population ratios will inevitably affect crime rates. And the demographic numbers are startling. In Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, for example, the number of white residents rose 1,235 percent from 2000 to 2015, while the black population decreased by 17 percent, reports City Lab. In Bushwick, Brooklyn, the number of whites rose 610 percent over that same decade and a half; the black population was down 22 percent. Central Harlem’s white population rose 846 percent; the black share dropped 10 percent. In 2000, whites were about three-quarters of the black population in Brownsville-Ocean Hill; by 2015, there were twice as many whites as blacks. In 2000, whites were one-third of the black population in Crown Heights North and Prospect Heights; now they exceed the black population by 20,000.

But it would be foolish to gamble that CompStat and gentrification can overcome the loss of public order maintenance. The next mayor—polling data favor de Blasio’s reelection—should demand that district attorneys again punish fare-beating, the key gateway to criminality in the subways. No mugger uses a MetroCard. And the sight of youths jumping turnstiles sends a clear signal that lawful authority is breaking down underground, leading to more crime.

The mayor should also pick a fight with the city council over its own decriminalization policies. If council members listened to their law-abiding constituents, rather than to the anti-cop activists, they would know that the most pressing concern of the thousands of hardworking, upstanding residents of high-crime areas is public order. The people who have to traverse corners dominated by guys drinking, urinating, and fighting understand that those knots of disorder lead to shootings and stabbings.

Broken Windows enforcement is a moral and civil rights imperative, since it equalizes the living conditions among different neighborhoods and social strata.

Though the city’s official crime numbers have not yet worsened, signs of increasing disorder are everywhere. The city is filthy; any mayor should be ashamed to have European tourists witness our inability to keep the streets free of trash. Vagrants are multiplying. The solution to colonization by beggars and addicts is not more taxpayer-subsidized housing, which the city already provides in massive amounts at the expense of basic public services. The solution is enforcement of the law and willingness to insist that the mentally ill stay in treatment.

The legacy of New York’s former commitment to public order will not last forever. The next mayoral administration must commit to re-civilizing the streets.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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