How Much Credit Can Clinton Take For Crime’s Drop?


The administration of Bill Clinton can take little legitimate credit for the nation’s crime declines in the 1990s, argues conservative writer Rich Lowry in a new book. Lowry, editor of National Review magazine, contended at a forum yesterday that the main reasons for the reduction in crime rates were “prisons, pot, and cops.” He explained that the higher imprisonment rate in state and federal institutions took many criminals off the streets. Other crimes didn’t occur because after the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, “kids saw what happened to their older brothers” and switched to marijuana, he said.

As for police, Lowry does credit Clinton for putting more police officers on the street through his community oriented policing services program (COPS). The author asserts, however, that many fewer officers made it to the streets than the 100,000 intended by Clinton and that more significant reforms were implemented by former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, working under Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Lowry writes about the crime issue in “Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.”

At a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, criminologist Jeff Roth of the University of Pennsylvania took issue with “omissions and oversimplifications” in Lowry’s book. Prison populations actually did not increase steadily in recent decades but tended to change in cycles, increasing after election years in which political candidates called for “get-tough” measures and declining during periods of budget pressure, Roth said.

As for police, Clinton did make the 100,000 goal “more or less,” Roth argued. He said that Lowry did not take into account many officers who were able to return to street duty when technology was introduced to their departments at federal expense. In New York City, for example, 1,000 officers were “freed up” by such advances.

In a rebuttal, Lowry called the COPS program “politically brilliant,” but he pointed out that it was not always focused on the highest crime areas. “More cops don’t necessarily reduce crime,” he said. “It depends on what you do with them.”-


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