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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

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Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Crime and Police

by Jerome Chou

The Topic: "Crime/Police" refers to criminal activity, the efforts to combat it, and its impact on city life. Near-synonyms:Criminal Justice; Public Safety.

The Context: The decline in the NYC crime rate may be the greatest story of the decade. But in the wake of the Louima and Diallo cases, NYPD practices have come under scrutiny. Accusations of racial bias, abuse of power and infringement on civil liberties abound. What is the balance between civil liberty and civil order? Who decides?

The Reporter: Jerome Chou is a freelance writer. He works part-time interviewing recently released ex-offenders about their re-entry into society.

The Archives: See past monthly updates for Crime and Justice.

Jerome's Favorite Five Sites For Beginners:

  • NYPD - "Just the facts ma'am." The official site for the Finest, with the official information: precincts, crimestoppers, FAQs. All right, so the site exists in a vacuum. What did you expect, a page on policy brutality?
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation, Unit for Crime Reports - This nationwide cooperative effort provides statistics on crime as reported from over 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement entities. Every crime statistic imaginable, all in downloadable format. Especially dramatic: the Crime Clock in the executive summary.
  • Vera Institute for Justice - Non-profit foundation that works with State and Federal governments to study and implement policy. Impressive range of topics, especially on what happens after the crime is committed (e.g. drug rehab, ex-offenders, sentencing).
  • New York State Assembly - Unveils Public Safety 2000: an 8-point crimebusting proposal from the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The criminal is political--check out the anti-Pataki potshots for a preview of where Albany's battle lines will be drawn.
  • Essential Information on Abuse, Assault, Rape & Domestic Violence - No catchy acronyms here. The site seems oddly personal at first (it was set up by a mother-daughter team), but contains loads of links and resources for anyone who needs to know where to turn.

In The News:

For the best conservative, feel-good take on crime in New York, check out City Journal, published quarterly by the think-tank The Manhattan Institute. The Spring and Summer issues paint a sunny picture of New York's progression from the Dark Ages (pre-1995) to Triumph (the Present). The writers attribute our safe streets and safe prisons to essentially the same paradigm shift in management -- decentralizing, giving more opportunity and responsibility to local command, and providing detailed statistics on criminal activity to help local officials.

Whether you're reading for confirmation of your worldview or to find an infuriating strawman, City Journal is a valuable resource.

Other Recommendations:

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving - Comprehensive and informative, and especially timely now that the new car seizure laws are in place. With stats on local DUI rates and info on NY chapters.
  • Lindesmith - Drug policy foundation offers everything you need to know about NY's Rockefeller Drug Laws, which have helped shape a generation of criminals and have been criticized by Clinton's drug czar. Look for the announcements on public seminars.
  • US News and World Report - The cover story from May '98 is the best single source discussion of why crime has dropped. Dissects several arguments then focuses on the rise and fall of crack cocaine as the single most important factor in crime rates nationwide.
  • Financial Scandals - A good introduction to Wall Street crooks and classic heists, among other corporate crimes. Too text-heavy, but don't miss the section on pension fund scandals before you hand your Social Security money to J.P. Morgan.
  • The John Gotti Tribute Page - Free John Gotti! An amusing mafia site that includes lessons on Italian profanities and a rant against the "Witless Protection Program." Also provides a good Links page for those interested in more traditional approaches to Organized Crime.

Jerome Sounds Off:

Steve Schwalb is one happy businessman. The CEO of Federal Prison Industries watched his company bring in $540 million in revenue last year. His workers, prisoners serving sentences in 94 federal prisons, earn 23 cents to $1.15 an hour making electronic parts, clothes, and furniture.

The future looks even better. The federal prison population is expected to reach 200,000 by the year 2006; Schwalb will employ 30,000 of these inmates. Mirroring the shifts that have transformed the low-wage job market on the outside, FPI workers have begun performing data entry and other service-oriented tasks. Now Congress has proposed that FPI be allowed to expand beyond government contracts to offer their services to private companies.

Supporters of the proposed bill, the Prison Industries Reform Act, say that jobs lost to overseas sweatshops can be snatched back by prison labor and that these jobs will in turn help lower high recidivism rates. But you can hear these politicians and their business backers rubbing their hands: a growing, cheap workforce -- behind bars! Even ignoring the irony of undercutting sweatshop wages, the supposed benefit of lowered recidivism is a crock. Will the "work experience" gained from a $1 an hour data-entry job go very far on the outside? And what happens when companies start to replace their workers (say, for instance, unionized workers making a decent salary with benefits) with inmate-power? At this rate, it's only a matter of time before someone suggests that inner city public school kids devote one period a day to stuffing envelopes.

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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