Nov 30, 2009

Tough Economic Times, But Crime Still Declines in NYC

by Christopher Watler, Task Force Coordinator

An article in the New York Times metro section highlights the curious case of New York City's continued drop in crime, despite depression-sized unemployment and a shrinking police force. As one of my grad school professors would say, " if something is working (or not), do you know why?" The jury is still out on why recorded crime continues to trend down in NYC, and the debate rages on. On one side, you have scholars like George Kelling highlighting the use of data drive approaches by the police. On the other side, you have scholars like Robert Sampson arguing that it is the ability of neighborhoods to work together that makes the difference. As the article suggests, the current economic downturn may be an opportunity to test the connection between crime and the economy.

To be sure, economic hard times and crime declines are felt differently by different neighborhoods and persons in New York City. As the article points out, homelessness is at an all time high, with over 28,000 families living in city shelters, and recent high-profile shootings are clustered in some of the City's most vulnerable neighborhoods. Crime or no crime, many New Yorkers are having a tough time these days. The strain on local and state budgets may further fray social safety net programs and police hiring. Yet, there is no doubt that something is different in New York City when it comes to crime. For better or worse, we are a different city than the New York City of the 1970s and 1980s. The question is, do we know why?