New York back to the bad old days

I am going to NYC next week and I expect to have a good time in a relatively clean city w/o much risk of crime. But I was watching a movie about NYC made in the 1980s. It showed a different, dangerous and unpleasant place. Democrats have not run NYC for 20 years. Before that time there had not been a full Republican since Fiorello La Guardia (1934-45) Democrats will assuredly be back now. Will it be like old times?

It is easy to forget how bad things were. City government was actively hostile to business. Experts suggested that authorities negotiate with gangs to create some safety. Garbage often piled up. Walking around in Central Park was like crossing into a wilderness. Even if you didn't fear the criminal, it was poorly maintained and littered with .. litter.

We cannot credit better mayors with all the improvements, but NYC is clearly much better than it was twenty years ago. One of the most important "secrets" of prosperity is simple security. When honest people need not fear criminals, they invest in their home, take pride in their streets, go to clubs and restaurants.

You really don't need to go after the "root causes" of crime. Crime is the most important root cause of disorder and poverty. The elimination or at least control of the crime is always and everywhere the most essential anti-poverty program.

I hope our liberal friends have learned something about running a city and they don't return to the silly ideas of the past. The best way to fight crime is by fighting crime. The essential way to develop a city is to control crime. The first step in reducing poverty and hopelessness is to make the streets safe. Do that and you are more than half way there. Neglect that and there is no hope.

Posted by Christine & John at September 13, 2013 2:23 PM
Comment #370657

Good story, except that it isn’t quite true. The turnaround in NYC’s crime rate began in the term of Mayor David Dinkins, a Democrat, who hired 8,000 additional officers and instituted community policing practices. “Crime’s hold on the city really started to falter while Dinkins still sat in City Hall from 1990 to 1993. Data from shows the murder rate in New York City peaked in 1990 and dropped 30% by 1994.” Half of the major crime reduction occurred even before Giuliani even became mayor. As the linked article points out it is a tale of two mayors, one Democrat and one Republican.

There are many factors that probably contributed to the decline of crime in NYC and in other urban cities, i.e., economic improvement, aging of population, sheer numbers of additional officers, etc. However, the return to community policing of Dinkins and the “broken windows” approach of Giuliani have a common sense appeal as very significant factors.

My father was a police officer from the 40s through the 80s in a large urban northeastern city. He always thought that the heart and soul of an urban police force was the beat foot patrolman. When he first came on the force, he told me that the old sergeants held him accountable for anything and everything that occurred on his beat. He knew everybody and they knew him. That all changed with modernization in the 60s, all officers in cars, centralized stations, closing of local precincts, etc. The police and the community became distinct to each other. He would applaud the return to community policing, attention to the minor crimes (broken windows)and a return of a mutual accountability for a community.

Posted by: Rich at September 13, 2013 6:58 PM
Comment #370658

Actually, this is an excuse for me to bring up a topic that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while:

I think a fundamental difference between American Liberals & American Conservatives is their approach towards crime. Conservatives put more emphasis on forcefully stopping a crime before it occurs, whereas liberals put more emphasis on the investigation and justice that happens after the crime is perpetrated.

In my mind, a society where a wannabe criminal is unable to commit a crime is an unfree one. A government that cannot prevent someone from assassinating me is also a government that cannot infringe my unalienable rights. Obviously, this freedom comes at the price of reduced law & order. However, I think the tradeoff may be worth it. Then again, I wasn’t alive 20+ years ago when security was less certain, so my naivete is probably showing through.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 13, 2013 7:12 PM
Comment #370662


I just don’t want to go back to the “Death Wish” days. Whether it started before 1990 or not, we can see that the emphasize became actually fighting crime, not excusing criminal behavior.

I visit Rio de Janeiro a few times a year. It is now mostly safe, at least in the better areas and there is a thriving life. Back in the late 1980s, you didn’t dare walk around. The then governor was a leftist who said it was just social justice and crime was an unfortunate result.

The poor suffer the most from crime because they live right in it. Order is a great anti-poverty program.

The police cleaned the drug dealers out of some of the favellas, Suddenly they flowered. Restaurants opened. People started to make thes dumpy little houses into simple B&Bs. Basic services like water and power could be brought in. NOTHING good can come before security. A government that cannot supply security is violating the most fundamental human right and is not really governing.


Please see above. There is always some trade off between security and liberty, but not always direct. People who live in constant fear of crime cannot be free. And they certainly will not be prosperous.

Re justice - it is all well and good if they can catch and punish the man who rapes and brutalizes your daughter or cripples your son during a robbery attempt, but I prefer that not happening in the first place.

Criminals rarely start with the terrible crime. They work up to them. We are doing ourselves and them no favors by letting it get out of hand.

Think of it from the criminal’s point of view. Some are bad and beyond earthly redemption. But others are not. IF they commit a small crime and are punished or deterred in the first place, they might well NEVER turn to crime. It is better for everybody.

I am sorry to overdo my war stories, but I remember seeing a bunch of prisoners who our Iraqi friends claimed had planned to blow up a bridge while we were on it. There were about ten of these guys. They were all young and stupid looking, except one. He looked at us with such hate. He was clearly the leader. I thought about this. These kids had ruined their lives. It was going to be very bad for them in the Iraqi justice system. IF they had not been corrupted by this bad guy, maybe they would have tossed some rocks or some minor vandalism, but they would have had a chance to become good men.

There are lots of people who could go either way. We do them no favors by letting conditions around them get out of hand. With the proper discipline, they can become good citizens and happy people. Without it, they are angry predators.

IMO, we violate humanity more by being too loose than by tighter policies. New York is much nicer than it was 20 years ago. Fewer of the residents are robbing others and we have to put fewer of them in jail, where life is less attractive.

Posted by: CJ at September 13, 2013 7:39 PM
Comment #370666


When crime gets out of control, then draconian, authoritarian measures come into favor. It’s a danger to our liberties.

Fortunately, I don’t see what happened in NYC as anything indicative of a move to an authoritarian police state. NYC solved its problem by going back to time honored basics. Enforce minor crimes before they escalate to major crimes. Get more cops on the street interacting with residents, establish trust and enlist their help by providing them help.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The vast majority agree on the basic laws of conduct with some exceptions due to the distortions of the drug laws. I may sound like a conservative here, but simple enforcement of basic rules of conduct pays off not only in reducing major crime but avoids the very authoritarian outcome feared.

Posted by: Rich at September 13, 2013 8:03 PM
Comment #370667


OK, we agree that the turnaround in NYC was the result of attention to crime fighting initiated by a Democratic mayor, David Dinkins and followed up by a Republican mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. Not a conservative vs. liberal issue.

Posted by: Rich at September 13, 2013 8:18 PM
Comment #370668


On the liberal side, it is probably time to downshift some of those drug laws. We have too many people in prison too long for non-violent crimes. I think we did right to come down hard on crack and probably meth, but once we beat back the threat we no longer have to beat back the people.

Re liberal police policies - I think the 1960s and 1970s went off the tracks on lots of things. One of the big meta problems was that we over rationalized and thought we could just think up new things.

A fundamental conservative principle is that experience counts and that our habits and institutions result from experience of the past. That certainly does not we never change, but we should be careful in throwing out long established practices even when we don’t know why they work.

The 1960s and 1970s were times of arrogance. We thought we could apply “science” to social problems. We threw out old fashioned “inefficiencies” like beat cops. We thought we could identify “root causes” and neglected real ones.

It took us decades to recover.

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