New York’s Blackout With Little Crime: Why?

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It’s been widely noted that street crime did not notably increase during last week’s power blackout in many big Northeastern cities. But why?

The New York Times drew a contrast to the city’s blackout of 1977, which brought out many looters. The Times described how many aspects of New York life had changed for the better in the succeeding two and a half decades.

The Times admits that timing may have played a big role: “The quiet of Thursday’s blackout may well have little to do with any of this. The ’77 blackout struck about 9:30 p.m. during a nasty heat wave, but this one came shortly after 4 p.m., with hours of daylight remaining. The Police Department – with near-record numbers of officers – had a chance to mobilize a visible presence in almost every corner of the city. By night, a cool breeze accompanied the dark.

The paper quotes Dick Netzer, a professor emeritus at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, as saying there may have been more to it: “I think it’s a consequence of a much greater sense of some kind of empathy among New Yorkers for each other,” he said, “and a sense that criminal acts are really wrong. I think there’s a building sense of civility. It’s such a difference.” Netzer credited this to a generally prosperous decade, a tough policing policy developed during the administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and “the social bonds coming out of 9/11.”


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