Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani exaggerates his role in bringing down crime rates in New York City, says the St. Petersburg Times. Violent crime in New York began falling three years before Giuliani took office in 1994. The “turnaround” he claims credit for started before him. New York was part of a trend that saw crime fall sharply nationwide in the 1990s, particularly in big cities. The city with the best record for reducing violent crime during this period? San Francisco.
Studies generally have failed to link the tactics of the Giuliani administration with the large decrease in crime rates. Many criminologists believe the decline in New York, as in Chicago, San Diego, Miami, and elsewhere, was the result of a complex mix of social and demographic changes, including a break in the crack cocaine epidemic, an improving economy, and increased prison terms for lawbreakers. “Demographics have an awful lot to do with this, and these are very, very large social forces,” said Jeffrey Fagan, co-director of the Center for Crime, Community and Law at the Columbia Law School in New York. “It’s hard to imagine policing, no matter how smart and effective it is, giving the kind of leverage … to move a macro force like crime.” Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, instituted a CompStat system to hold police commanders more accountable, but Andrew Karmen, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, notes that crime is now rising in several CompStat copycats, including Boston and Baltimore. Howard Safir, who replaced Bratton, says the proof that CompStat works is the continuing decline in crime in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has improved the system. “CompStat is not brain science, CompStat is holding people accountable for performance,” said Safir, a Giuliani supporter. “I’ve watched lots of police departments that implemented CompStat fail because they were unwilling to make the hard choices.”