Is New York getting safer?

New York is America’s safest large city, the city that saw crime fall the most and the fastest during the 1990s and the early part of this decade.  Yet New York’s murder rate is 80 percent higher now than it was at the beginning of the twentieth century — notwithstanding an imprisonment rate four times higher now than then.  That crime gap is misleadingly small; thanks to advances in emergency medicine, a large fraction of those early twentieth-century homicide victims would survive their wounds today.  Taking account of medical advances, New York is probably not twice as violent as a century ago, but several times more violent.  At best, the crime drop must be counted a pyrrhic victory.

That is from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, by William J. Stuntz, hat tip to Chug Roberts.

Comments

Is that a good use of the term "pyrrhic victory?" I think not.

My first thought also. Some don't realize that their attempts at cleverness are so revealing. Other instances include the frequent misuse of terms like "Hobson's Choice" and "begging the question".

My first thought also.

I don't know about NY but Chicago is.
http://volokh.com/2011/10/04/crime-plummets-in-chicago-and-dc-after-handguns-re-legalized/

Apples to oranges. NY definitely got safer during the time period you look at; the article is talking about a 110-year time frame.

NY has been restrictive firearms over the last century, so it holds.

s/restrictive/restricting/

New York, with its restrictive gun policies, saw larger drops in crime over the same period. Yes, you clearly don't know about New York.

Homocide is not the only crime. Or even a good proxy for violence. Where are the other crime rates in this analysis? Or does he cherry pick murder in his book?

The other option is that this has to do with NY outlawing firearms, not with a "collapse in criminal justice."

Okay, run the regression and prove it.

Tabarrok argued this on this very blog:

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/06/long-term-trend-in-homicide-rates.html

It's true that murder victims at the turn of the 20th century didn't have access to modern emergency medicine, but criminals didn't have access to modern semi-automatic firearms, with high-capacity magazines and large-caliber, high-velocity bullets. You can't just factor in changes in treatment; you also have to factor in likely injuries.

Guns at the turn of the century were about as effective at killing people as those today, the Colt 1911 .45 semiautomatic pistol is still one of the prefered handguns for special forces, revolver technologoy hasn't grown by leaps and bounds either, nor has technology in in most shotguns.

Virtually no crimes are committed with modern assalt rifles or fancy guns as they are just too expensive and FBI stats reveal that the vast majority of 'shootouts' involve only about 3 shots.

The availability of more modern weapons really only has an influence in black swan kinds of shootings like those of Virginia Tech and Gabby Giffords in Tucson.

How about whether people at the turn of the century had as much access to firearms, period, kill rates and accuracy notwithstanding.

Cost, availability, and legal impediments would all be things to consider.

That's not factual. Before the Federal Firearms Act of 1936, anyone could order a Thompson submachine gun by mailorder.

The Thompson submachine gun was invented in 1919, so you couldn't order it from anyone at the turn of the century.

who is murdering people with machine guns?

Actually, they did. You could buy them mail order or from any local Sears, etc.

I'm wondering and what about criminals health, don't they survive more these days and so have more opportunity to kill people? I'm not defending killing people, just saying...

At the beginning of the 20th century we didn't have drug prohibition either, noting that drug prohibition is the cause of the vast bulk of homicides.

It is high time to admit that drug prohibition is a complete failure with mass death and the decimation of the Constitution being the primary results of our failed policy.

Tyler seems a bit in love with this book because it confirms some of his biases (such as his anti-prison bias). A bias can be correct, but still...
Also, one has to wonder about the reporting of crime and about the collection of crime data. Here's a quote from the NYT on the 2010 murder rate: "The 2009 figure was the lowest number of murders since 1963, when the department began keeping reliable statistics."

By the way, here's a site where you can actual see an account of all NYC murders since 1900:
http://www.therestlesssleep.com/?p=454

How much of the difference would be accounted for by NY's much-increased density? Or is it even true that density broadly correlates with crime rate?

Is New York denser today than it was in 1900?

The five boroughs, collectively, are denser today, because Queens and Staten Island are no longer farmland, but the dense parts of the city were way denser a century ago. Manhattan housed almost a million more people in 1911 than it does today.

I'm surprised by that last bit.

New York's population is roughly the same as it was circa-WWII. It did experience a dip of about a million people over the 60s-70s, but came back up the the 8 million-or-so mark by the end of the 90s. The burbs and beyond are what has grown more and more dense.

Yeah, but could the 1900 NYPD can shoot planes out of the sky?
If progressively militarized police force hasn't bee effective it would seem an easy target for the fraud,waste&abuse cuts.

What?! Can this be right?
The movie "Gangs of New York" passes a very distorted image of the city then... Although it does show the mid 19th century and not early 20th, but still, hatchet-wars featuring hundreds of people!

i will always look at with suspicion any crime data offered by the very people charged with fighting crime. they have an incentive to give the appearance of lower crime rates, even if that is not actually the case. someone comes in to report attempted murder, they are then asked, "are you sure they tried to kill you?" and it gets downgraded to aggravated assault. someone comes in to report armed robbery, and they are asked, "are you it was a gun?" and it gets marked down as petty theft.

there are political motivations that decide how administrators go about "cooking the books." if a police department wants to get increased federal funding, then the incentive is to mark up crimes. robbery becomes larceny, number of gangs present in their town goes up, etc. but if its an election year, and the mayor wants to give the impression that "being tough on crime" is actually successful, then crime rates get "lowered."

these shenanigans of crime manipulations have been going on for decades. its one of the biggest reasons why i support privatizing police force in the country. no only would it protect taxpayers from civil lawsuits against trigger-happy police officers, but the crime statistics would finally be truthful. there would probably be about 4-6 major police companies, competing to get contracts from the biggest cities every year. and another half dozen smaller companies competing for the small towns. in order to prove they are better than the competition at handling crime, they have the incentive to make it as accurate as possible. not only that, but it would finally do away with the disgusting notion among cops of a "brotherhood" or a "Code." right now, if a cop knows another cop is dirty, he has zero incentive to report it. but with a privatized police force, a police company will want to get to the bottom of any dirty cop business as swiftly as possible, in order to avoid jeopardizing not just the contract in the town or city in question, but all over the country. the public impression of a company that allows cops to run amok would quickly lead to ruin. and any cop that refuses to report on the dirty cop would be fired, and blackballed by the other police companies.

im honestly curious. can someone give me some negatives of a privatized police force? just to keep me in perspective.

"i will always look at with suspicion any crime data offered by the very people charged with fighting crime. they have an incentive to give the appearance of lower crime rates, "

Actually the incentive is exactly the opposite. They have an incentive to inflate crime rates in order to justify continued or increased funding.

"im honestly curious. can someone give me some negatives of a privatized police force? just to keep me in perspective."

Well let's start with some of your own:

"in order to prove they are better than the competition at handling crime, they have the incentive to make it as accurate as possible."

in essence you are arguing that slaesmen have an incentive to tell the truth and not to lie. That doesn't pass the laugh test. In fact these entrpreneurs would have exactly the same incentive as curent police officials to inflate the scope of the problem. Of course competition shoud stop that, but there is nothing in your model to prevent collusion among these police agencies on a question where collusion would profit them all.

" but with a privatized police force, a police company will want to get to the bottom of any dirty cop business as swiftly as possible, in order to avoid jeopardizing not just the contract in the town or city in question, but all over the country."

That doesn't follow at all. And the track record of companies in every other industry stonewalling on missteps and errors and outright misconduct is pretty clear - they will lie and cover up. Also you are assuming that the public oficials granting the contratcs will be acting in the public interest, but with such huge comanies with such deep pockets, corruption is almost certain to form those decisions more than fear of voter scrutiny.

Also, I have no idea where you get this:
" no only would it protect taxpayers from civil lawsuits against trigger-happy police officers,"

Do you mean that these private comapnies would be immune to lawsuits, that if not immune they would refrain from passing the costs of lawsuits along, or.... what do you mean?

whether statistics get bumped up or down depend on whether the police department wants increased funding or its an election year for the incumbent. and i made a reply below concerning the truthfulness and accuracy of crime statistics reports. a police company wont try to cover it up because all their competitors will jump on it and point out to anyone and everyone that they cant be trusted. a full fledged smear campaign that would destroy their credibility. and hints of corruption in one city will make them a hard sell in other cities, no matter how deep their pockets are. and police companies cant pass on the costs of lawsuits. they have to eat them. if they try to pass it on, rival companies will outbid them, and theyll lose the contract and get nothing.

also, about your point on collusion, i dont think its possible. how would the police companies go about dividing up the country? who gets what cities and towns? this isnt a normal market. each and every city and town is a single customer offering a contract that will run out and have another open bid every year. and even if all the major police companies somehow come to an agreement, whats to stop the smaller and mid-level companies from making bids for the big cities if they think they can offer a more fair price. not to mention that smaller police companies could merge in order to give the top police companies series competition. of course doing so would put them out of the price line of the smaller markets, so it will have to be a calculated decision.

and i forgot to mention the most important point-the transition to privatized police across the country will be slow. these police companies have to prove that they can do the same job for lower costs. and collusion would be a big gamble, because any hint of it could drive a local government back to public police department. they have to work hard to earn the people's trust, and they have to work even hard to keep it.

"in order to prove they are better than the competition at handling crime, they have the incentive to make it as accurate as possible."

Not following that logic. At all. Just like the police commissioner whose job is on the line, they have every incentive to distort their success rates. Who will verify them?

"it would finally do away with the disgusting notion among cops of a “brotherhood” or a “Code."

Good point.

yeah, youre right. now that i think about it more, a better way to go about it is to have each town or city require that before a police company can bid for a contract, they have to submit their own report on the current crime statistics for the previous year, even if they didnt have the contract then. so you would have independent sources for crime statistics to verify if the current contract holder is fudging the marks or not. and it keeps everyone in line across the country since you never know when a start-up police company might come out of nowhere, enter your target market, and bring your company's shady business to light.

Police departments do fudge on these stats. The murder rate is harder to play these kind of games with though.

......all the would be murderers were aborted 25 yrs ago...where's steve levitt when u need him??

How about the big change over the past 110 years that no one has mentioned? Race.

New York was almost entirely white before the Great Migration began during the first world war. Whites don't commit crimes nearly as frequently as blacks. Crime rates are closer between whites and Hispanics, but Puerto Ricans, who constitute a very large proportion of New York's Hispanic population commit crimes far more frequently than whites. The increase in Asians, who commit crimes at lower rates than whites, has not been enough to make up the difference.

Not the only factor, clearly, but it's a massive factor and no one has said a word about it. How can society function if we're too afraid to voice obvious truths or, worse, if we've brainwashed ourselves into not thinking them.

"Whites don’t commit crimes nearly as frequently as blacks."

That is true in 2011, but, in earlier history, whites' crime rate wasn't as it is today. It used to be higher, at least in other parts of the world. In the 16th or 18th century, crime rate in Europe was close to today's South Africa. That is also why the ancient penal codes were so harsh.

So, how did white crime rate change in the last 110 years?

I would guess, and we are going well into the realm of guessing now because I'm way too lazy to look this stuff up, that crime rates for all races in this country have fallen over the past century because people of all races have become quite a bit more wealthy and wealthy people, in general, are less likely to commit crimes. Also, while the technology for committing most crimes hasn't gotten all that much better (things like computer hacking excepted), technology for police work has improved across the board, so while the severity of punishment has fallen (even in the U.S.) for many crimes, the chances of getting caught has risen. More speculation, however, says that tendency to murder would go down the least because it is often a crime of intense emotion rather than an economically motivated one.

All that said, I'll now argue against my own theory by noting that European property crime has skyrocketed over the past 50 years, despite wildly rising incomes, because Europeans no longer bother to jail people for property crime and they've abandoned the barbarous relics known as morals.

If gentrifying whites are committing crimes like Dick Wolf says they are on Law & Order, then I am really worried. If it is just Hispanics and blacks continuing their mayhem, then I am not because I know where and who to avoid.

Scoop's point is a good one. It's not the same New York. You'd thinks after decades of rent control and welfare and free schools that New York would be a socialist paradise. It isn't. Instead, it has a permanent underclass. And diversity hasn't helped either. New York Jamaicans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans continue to fail to prosper.

New York is hardly the only place with rent control, welfare and free (public??) schools. You're right about the permanent underclass, but the effectiveness of diversity is not defined simply by the quantity of minorities living in a particular area. You have whole sections of neighborhoods that are practically dominated by one race of people who haven been systematically doomed to economic disadvantage. If none of your neighbors are "prospering," how are you supposed to escape the same fate? And no, you can't just move to a better area, due to gentrification and the prohibitive housing prices that come with it. So at the neighborhood level, there isn't much actual diversity (racial or economic) to speak of, because the nicer areas continue to get whiter.

There are plenty of cities in the U.S. that have privatized their police forces. That isn't a question that needs to be answered solely with speculation and attempts to deduce impacts from assumptions.

Comments for this post are closed