By Julia Vitullo-Martin
American cities are doing well these days. And no city
is doing better than New York, which has returned to its
historic position at the top of the world food chain.
The reasons are many, but high up in any mix of causes
sits the new reality of the city's being safe. As Columbia
University history professor Kenneth T. Jackson wrote
in a recent New York Times op-ed: "The single greatest
catalyst to inner-city revitalization has been a sharp
decline in crime."
THREE FOR GIULIANI'S CRIME AGENDA, ONE AGAINST
During Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's eight years in office,
overall violent crime has gone down 63 percent. Homicide
is down 70 percent. Nobody is likely to become the next
mayor of New York by running to the left of Rudolph Giuliani
on crime. This poses no problem for Republicans, but a
serious dilemma for the four contenders who are liberal
Democrats--Public Advocate Mark Green, City Comptroller
Alan Hevesi, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, and Bronx
Borough President Fernando Ferrer. As James Traub noted
in The New York Times Magazine in early February, these
four "are all longtime officeholders and all, to varying
degrees, priests of the old religion upon which Giuliani
has wreaked devastation."
The Democrats, however, are not without their own resources.
Mark Green released the first salvo, and it was a good
one. He announced that if elected he would appoint Giuliani's
former police commissioner, William Bratton, as his own
police commissioner. Since Bratton spent two successful
years corralling crime only to be unceremoniously let
go by Mayor Giuliani in 1996, this allows Green to position
himself as the Ur-Giuliani on crime policy, but as the
Similarly, City Comptroller Hevesi has been willing to
credit both the city's tourism boom and its higher education
boom to Giuliani's successful fight on crime. When Hevesi
announced his candidacy on March 20, he refused to distance
himself form the mayor on policy issues: "Mayor Rudy Giuliani
hasn't given us a perfect city, but in large part--not
for everyone yet and not everywhere--our city is going
in the right direction." He said he would not "pander"
or make "phony promises that sound good today but would
destroy the long-term future of the city."
What's more, Hevesi even had his own phantom Bratton
in the crowd--Jerry Hauer, the former head of Giuliani's
Office of Emergency Management, and current head of the
Crisis and Consequence Management Group of Kroll Associates,
the international security firm. In November 2000 Kroll
Associates signed an agreement with Bratton, now head
of a small management firm, to provide Hauer's division
with consulting services. Hauer called Hevesi "head and
shoulders above the rest," according to the New York Post.
Hevesi didn't maintain his uneasy truce with the mayor
for long. In a television commercial entitled "Commander"
he said, "We need zero tolerance for police abuse. That's
why, as mayor, I'll hold police commanders responsible
for reducing crime and police misconduct." He also said
"I'll stop profiling." A furious Giuliani called "the
whole thing a terrible insult to the police department."
To the astonishment of many, City Council Speaker Vallone
has worked successfully with the prickly mayor over the
last eight years. Vallone chose from the start of his
campaign to continue his conciliatory posture. When asked
by the Daily News, along with the other three Democrats,
whether he would re-appoint current Police Commissioner
Bernard Kerik, Vallone said Kerik would "absolutely" be
on his short list if elected.
But Vallone is no wimp. He told the AP wire service that
Giuliani has "done a really good job in fighting crime
and managing the city, but we've got to make sure that
every mother in the city can run to a police officer with
open arms instead of running away from them." Invoking
motherhood is always good, but in this context it's downright
Only Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer is striking
out into new territory--or perhaps he is simply returning
to what Traub calls the old religion.
PUTTING RACE AT THE FORE
Ferrer is the only candidate willing to run a racially
charged campaign--trying to stake out a Latino-black coalition
in this race, much as he tried for a Latino-white coalition
in his unsuccessful 1997 mayoral campaign.
Ferrer is said to speak for those New Yorkers who want
the city to be taken in a bold new direction. He distinguishes
two New Yorks: "the one we see on television and read
about, in which hotels are full and tourism is up and
squeegee men are off the street; and the other New York,
with parents deeply concerned about failing schools attended
overwhelmingly by black and Latino children."
In this other New York, argues Ferrer, "communities want
to bring crime down but also to end the indignities of
racial profiling. They want to ensure that the divide
of distrust between the police and the communities they
serve that has widened under Mayor Giuliani is repaired."
Ferrer argues that "what progress we've made over last
the last eight years has come at a tremendous price. Millions
of New Yorkers feel shut out and shut down by the Giuliani
If millions of New Yorkers agree with Ferrer--and if
they vote--he will be in the race. The city is certainly
racially divided on the subject of Giuliani. A March Quinnipiac
University poll found 70 percent of white New Yorkers
but only 26 percent of black New Yorkers approve of Giuliani.
But is the city also racially split on substantive issues?
This is not clear. Cooper Union Professor Fred Siegel
says that the division Ferrer is talking about "comes
and goes with incidents and how they're publicized. This
division is not deeply embedded for most of the city.
There's been no terrible incident in awhile, so the polls
show Commissioner Kerik doing a fabulous job. Are the
police policing differently? I don't think so. Now that
Giuliani is a lame duck, people have little interest in
pushing these issues."
Siegel also raises the problem of the primary, to be
held in September, versus the election, to be held in
November. Ferrer "is talking to people with grievances,"
he says, "which may make sense for the primary. But he's
digging himself into a hole, which will make it very hard
for him to govern if he's elected."
White New Yorkers remain the largest voting group. In
the Democratic primary, blacks and Latinos together will
probably be just over 45 percent of the vote. The polls
showed Green as an early leader--and Ferrer lagging--because
Green got substantial numbers of white voters while also
attracting two of five black voters.
Is Ferrer worried about lagging? Spokesman John Del Cecato
says, "These issues are very personal to him. He's not
running for mayor just to have a new place to live and
a bigger office. This is a crusade for him. There needs
to be someone who can speak in a personal way for those
New Yorkers who have been shut out." Underlying these
words is the assumption that Guiliani's aggressive policing
tactics in part produced this (presumably large) group
of shut-out New Yorkers.
WHAT GIULIANI AND BRATTON ACCOMPLISHED
There's no doubt that crime in New York has been plummeting,
and that policing has become more aggressive--starting
in 1991, when Mayor David Dinkins used an income tax surcharge
to increase the size of the force. What is controversial,
however, is why crime has come down. Conservatives tend
to credit policing and mayoral sternness toward quality-of-life
offenses. Liberals prefer to credit a whole host of factors--the
economy, demographics, incarceration, the end of the crack
epidemic, even higher education. Liberals also like to
note that many major cities--Washington, D.C., Philadelphia,
Chicago, Los Angeles--experienced a New-York-style decline
in crime during the 1990s. So what is the big deal here?
What Bratton did as commissioner--and the reason that
his name will indeed go down in police history--is create
a technically advanced computer system that allowed the
department to track crime fairly precisely. CompStat,
which stands for computer-generated comparative statistics,
pin-pointed crimes geographically and, just as important,
made the data accessible to headquarters as well as to
the precincts. This meant the commissioner could bring
commanding officers to heel, particularly those officiating
over the now clearly demarcated high-crime areas.
In their book on the history of the police department,
James Lardner and Thomas Repetto give a vivid description
of how this worked: "Prior to Bratton, the crime numbers
had often been months behind. Now they came out weekly.
At intervals of four to six weeks, an entire police borough
command, led by the two-star chief in charge along with
his inspectors, captains, and other key players, and accompanied
by commanding officers of special units in the area such
as detectives and narcotics, would be assembled in the
command center, or 'war room' on the eighth floor of One
Police Plaza. Meetings would convene at 7:00 a.m.--not
an hour of great activity at headquarters in years gone
by. Commanders would be questioned on the crime conditions
in their particular areas of jurisdiction. In the room
long tables, lit by green lamps, were set up in a horseshoe,
facing a lectern. A high-tech console flashed maps and
graphs on overhead video screens. Commanders were called
to the rostrum to make their presentation, then grilled
with frequent reference to the map. Crime by crime, sector
by sector, a precinct would be scoured by laser pointer."
Knowing that one's neighborhood is being scoured crime
by crime, sector by sector, can warm the citizen's heart
along with the commissioner's. CompStat represented a
management revolution--calling the entire police department,
from commanders down, to precise account for their ability
to fight crime.
But CompStat was only part of the revolution. The other
part was Giuliani's obsession: quality-of-life crimes.
Giuliani believes in the "broken window theory" developed
by Harvard academics James Q. Wilson and George Kelling,
who in the 1980s argued persuasively that neighborhoods
that neglected minor things like broken windows and graffiti
set up a conducive environment for more serious crime.
Both Giuliani and Bratton were convinced that if you halted
the minor stuff, you would keep the major stuff at bay.
Bratton's experience as head of the transit cops served
him well as commissioner of the entire police department.
He encouraged cops to crack down on turnstile jumping
and panhandling, based on the belief that jumpers and
panhandlers were also committing serious crimes. Indeed,
when the newly computerized police department started
running checks on turnstile jumpers, they found they had
often arrested on a minor charge someone wanted on major
WHAT GIULIANI AND BRATTON DID NOT ACCOMPLISH
So what's wrong with the Giuliani-Bratton revolution?
Liberals make two arguments. First, argue some criminologists,
such as Andrew Karmen at John Jay College, policing was
merely one of many factors that brought crime down. Second,
say politicians such as Freddy Ferrer, the fight against
crime extracted too high a price from minority communities.
In his book, New York Murder Mystery, Karmen analyzes
what caused the murder rate to fall, and concludes that
it was not due primarily to CompStat, in part because
the murder rate began falling before CompStat. Also, in
cities with very different policing strategies like San
Diego, the murder rate fell even faster than here. Rather,
a number of trends--productive immigration, favorable
demographics, the waning of the crack epidemic, low-cost
higher education, and an increased death rate--came together
effectively with aggressive policing.
Violent crime tends to be a young male activity. The
number of poor black and Latino young males, says Karmen,
fell significantly during the 1990s--and the crucial cohort
of 20-to-24-year-olds fell 19 percent. (Some dispute this
drop.) At the same time, death through drug overdoses,
AIDS among intravenous drug users, and homicides plus
the deportation of some criminal aliens eliminated about
43,000 lawbreakers. There were simply fewer criminals
on the streets of New York.
This distressing picture is lightened somewhat by another
Karmen argument: New Yorkers, including low-income blacks
and Latinos, are more likely to have attended and finished
college than minority residents of other cities. He argues
that the city's investment in public universities has
paid off in reduced crime.
His proposals to the next mayor are simple. First, using
heavy-duty statistical programs, find out what is really
behind the decline in crime and respond accordingly. (He
would like to see a neutral blue ribbon commission appointed.)
Second, continue to invest in higher education, including
community colleges and training programs.
If Karmen is right that policing was not the major factor
driving crime reduction then the other liberal argument--Ferrer's
point that the price was too high--may look stronger.
WHY SOME SAY THE PRICE WAS TOO HIGH
Let's get one thing out of the way: The candidates (you
can insert the Republicans here as well) pretty much agree
with Giuliani's quality-of-life strategies. As James Traub
noted in the New York Times, Hevesi cites his "100 percent
voting record from the A.C.L.U.," but says he never saw
aggressive panhandling in civil liberties terms anyway.
Ferrer, says Traub, calls himself "an early adherent"
of the widely publicized theories that underpinned the
mayor's crusade against street crime. And while all four
candidates favor some kind of community policing to replace
Giuliani's hard-line tactics, Traub writes: "you have
to wonder what will happen if crime starts to inch back
Yet the quality-of-life campaign was inextricably woven
into the aggressive policing tactics that liberals, particularly
Ferrer, deplore. Under Bratton, cops did not wait for
a crime to happen. Bratton's strategy was to get guns
off the street, crack down on minor offenses like public
drinking or fare beating, and police "proactively," to
use his term. If cops thought someone had a gun, or drugs,
or was involved in some crime, including a quality-of-life
offense, they stopped and searched the person. Most of
those stopped were young black or Latino males. It was
under an extension of this strategy that four undercover
cops in the Street Crime Unit shot the unarmed Amadou
Diallo in February 1999.
In 1999, of course, Bratton was no longer commissioner--Howard
Safir was. And while Safir maintained Bratton's strategy,
he modified some crucial operational details. For one
thing, he quadrupled the size of the Street Crime Unit
over the opposition of its commander, Richard Savage.
Savage complained that the street cops no longer knew
one another well enough to work together effectively,
and that the newest cops lacked training. As David Lefer
told the story in the Daily News, the result was disastrous.
The number of felony weapons arrests per officer--a crucial
measure--fell by half, warning the department that something
As Lefer wrote in late 1999, "With new officers heavily
outnumbering seasoned ones, teamings of inexperienced
officers became common, and they typically worked in a
different part of the city every night." On the day Amadou
Diallo was shot, says Lefer, a shortage of cars forced
four new cops to team up. None knew the area or one another.
We all know the tragic result.
Perhaps not sure what else to do, the federal government
opened an investigation into racial profiling by the police--prompting
Giuliani to say in October of last year that yes, of course,
the police stop and frisk black and Latino men at a rate
that far exceeds their share of the population. Minority
men are most often identified as suspects by victims,
he said, and he added that abandoning this tactic would
quickly translate into a surge in murders, rapes and robberies.
His one concession, in response to another federal investigation
of the department, was to propose that the system of handling
complaints of brutality and misconduct should be revamped.
At the time City Council speaker Vallone said, "If you
are criticizing the police force for doing its job, it
is absurd and it is ridiculous. Police are supposed to
catch criminals. That is what they are out there to do.
But I have been out there, and I have been to many community
meetings, and I have seen people who are not guilty of
any crime who are complaining about being stopped, and
that is wrong." On this issue of racial profiling, the
Democrats present a unified front of opposition. Because
any Republican candidate will be likely to support proactive
policing, this will almost surely become an issue in the
As the candidates ponder their positions on these troubling
issues, they would do well to remember Fred Siegel's warning
that intemperate positions in the campaign can affect
a mayor's ability to govern later. Tom Repetto begins
his book with a quote from Robert F. Wagner, the city's
mayor from 1954 to 1965: "When I go to bed at night, I
say a special prayer for the safety of the city. Then
I say another special prayer of thanks that nothing bad
happened in the police department."
Our next mayor will be the man who convinces New Yorkers
that he will keep their city safe--and that he will oversee
a police department that has the sensitivity to treat
New Yorkers respectfully and the toughness to fight crime