The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control

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Overview

The 40% drop in crime that occurred across the U.S. from 1991 to 2000 largely remains an unsolved mystery. Even more puzzling then is the crime rate drop in New York City, which lasted twice long and was twice as large. This 80% drop in crime over nineteen years represents the largest crime decline on record.

In The City that Became Safe, Franklin Zimring sets off in search of the New York difference through a detailed and comprehensive statistical investigation into the city's falling crime rates and possible explanations. If you listen to City Hall, aggressive police created a zero tolerance law enforcement regime that drove crime rates down. Is this self-serving political sound bite true? Are the official statistics generated by the police accurate? Zimring shows the numbers are correct and argues that some combination of more cops, new tactics, and new management can take some credit for the decline, but zero tolerance policing and quality of life were never a consistent part of the NYPD's strategy. That the police can make a difference in preventing crime overturns decades of conventional wisdom for criminologists, but Zimring points out the New York experience challenges the major assumptions dominating American crime and drug control policies that most everyone else has missed. First, imprisonment in actually New York decreased significantly from 1990 to 2009 and was well below the national average, proving that it is possible to have substantially less crime without increases in incarceration. Second, the NYPD sharply reduced drug violence (over 90%) without any reduction in hard drug use. In other words, they won the war on drug violence without winning the war on drugs. Finally, the stability of New York's population, economy, education, demographics, or immigration patterns calls into question the long-accepted cultural and structural causes of violence in America's cities. That high rates of crime are not hard wired into modern city life is welcome news for policy makers, criminal justice officials, and urban dwellers everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Zimring (The Great American Crime Decline), law professor at Berkeley, illustrates how far New York City’s crime rate has plummeted since its peak in the late 1980s–early 1990s. He argues that the decline “challenges the major assumptions that have dominated American crime and drug policy for more than a generation”—that the New York Police Department’s implementation of assertive policing policies is the sole reason for the decline. Other factors, he persuasively demonstrates, such as demographic changes, aging populations, changes in parole policy can take credit as well. While Zimring does introduce several new perspectives on the crime decline—contradicting, for example, that a cause of the decline was gentrification—his book’s scholarly tone, intense focus, and abundant detail might prove hard going for readers not steeped in the study of statistics and urban crime. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Provocative and hopeful." —New York Review of Books

"Accessible to both undergraduates and postgraduates, this is an excellent statistical study. The reader should not expect the master code that unlocks all of the secrets of New York's crime decline; however, The City that Became Safe should be considered a standard work on this fascinating phenomenon." —New York Journal of Books

"One of the best studies of the psychology of crime, and of cities, that I have ever read."
—Adam Gopnik, newyorker.com

"The City That Became Safe" is thoughtful, provocative, and quite brilliant. Zimring demonstrates that big cities can cut crime and reduce incarceration at the same time. New Yorkers, and all city dwellers, will feel safer after reading this powerful book." —Herbert Sturz, Open Society Foundations

"Franklin Zimring's examination of the astonishing New York City crime decline is fascinating and totally convincing. Reading this brilliant book is mandatory for criminologists and students of policing, and it's a damn good idea for everyone else." —Albert Alschuler, Northwestern University Law School

"Franklin Zimring boldly takes on one of the most important yet ill-understood social facts of the late twentieth century: why crime dropped like a stone for almost twenty years in New York. He hones in on the significant portion of crime that is 'situational and contingent' rather than rooted in urban structure, and identifies police policies and practices that go a long way toward explaining crime rates fell so precipitously. At the beginning of the 1990s New York was in trouble; now it is back, in large degree because of the story told here." —Wesley Skogan, Northwestern University

"A doubly profound book-in its withering demonstration that the New York City crime drop undoes much of the conventional social science wisdom about the embeddedness of American criminality, and in its optimistic lesson about the power of social policy to alter the supposedly endemic nature of urban crime." —Robert Weisberg, Stanford University

"The City That Became Safe sets the standard for reasoned analysis of one of the most important public-policy issues of our time." —Richard Rosenfeld, University of Missouri-St. Louis

"This is a wonderful, startling, and important book. It is a masterpiece of statistical rigor; but also of insight and common sense. All serious scholars of modern urban life, and, hopefully, all policy makers and criminologists, should read and absorb the lessons of this profound exploration of the riddles of crime and punishment in America." —Lawrence M. Friedman, Stanford University

"Using an array of statistics and a meticulous approach, Zimring, one of the nation's preeminent criminologists, convincingly argues that an identifiable human strategy does deserve most of the credit, but it was neither a single approach nor a single elected official. This is a model policy study on a crucial community concern demonstrating that, when it comes to public safety, government can make a difference. Highly recommended."
—CHOICE

"Zimring does a wonderful job letting the statistics tell the story of New York City's drop in crime... The result is a study that adds much to our knowledge of crime and crime policy while reminding us just how much we still have to learn. Recommended for all practicing criminologists and graduate students studying in the field." —International Social Science Review

"This book advances the discussion of urban crime policy by an order of magnitude for academics... [and] criminal justice instructors will need this book as an antidote for the plethora of 'it wasn't really the police' books available until now." —Journal of Urban Affairs

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199844425
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/23/2011
  • Series: Studies in Crime and Public Policy Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,188,108
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Franklin E. Zimring is William G. Simon Professor of Law and Wolfen Distinguished Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Great American Crime Decline.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Preface

Part I: Anatomy of a Crime Decline Chapter 1: The Crime Decline - Some Vital Statistics Chapter 2: A Safe City Now?

Part II: In Search of the New York Difference Chapter 3: Continuity and Change in New York City Chapter 4: Of Demography and Drugs: Testing Two 1990s Theories of Crime Causation Chapter 5: Policing in New York City

Part III: Lessons and Questions Chapter 6: Open Questions Chapter 7: Lessons for American Crime Control Chapter 8: Crime and the City

Appendix A: Staten Island: Crime, Policing and Population in New York's Fifth Borough Appendix B: The Invisible Economics of New York City Incarceration Appendix C: New York City Arrest Data and Borough Enforcement Staffing References

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