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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
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

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.

by Jerome Chou

In The News:

(jan '00) Paris Drake is accused of a senseless and brutal crime on a busy Midtown street in broad daylight. Whether or not he is convicted of bashing a woman's head with a brick, his arrest has highlighted the criminal justice system's failure to deal with repeat offenders.

Before the alleged attack, Drake had been jailed more than twenty times and was a free man for exactly 17 days out of the last eight years. Like many of his fellow inamtes, Drake was arrested several times on drug-related charges (an estimated 70% of the City's 70,000 inmates have a history of drug abuse). Most of his crimes were misdemeanors, which typically bring sentences of only a few weeks or months in jail.

Clearly, the system doesn't work for Drake and thousands of others who spend years cycling in and out of prison. Prison advocates call for more drug programs, but too often inmates themselves complain that these programs don't work. Most of the ex-cons I spoke to in a recent study of parole--even those who insisted they needed help to stay clean--ridiculed the rehab programs available to them. Some skipped out without consequences. When Drake, for instance, was finally ordered to seek treatment after years of revolving-door prison stints, he blew it off.

Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki have called for a kind of "three strikes and you're out" policy that would mandate longer sentences for repeat offenders after a certain number of misdemeanors in a given time period. Steven M. Fishner, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator, has said "It is for people like Paris Drake, for offenders who sell marijuana repeatedly in city parks, and for others who make a career of committing crimes and skating under the mandatory sentences for felonies."

Such a plan might please prison-happy public officials, but probably won't change criminal behavior. Why not? The motivation needed to go straight is extremely difficult to manufacture, whether you're giving inmates a boot camp regimen or drug programs, long terms upstate or slap-on-the-wrist sentences. The problem is, for those ex-cons who are determined not to return to prison, it's difficult to find a job that pays the bills, and exceedingly easy to get back into crime, especially selling and using drugs. Until this balance changes--perhaps by making effective pre-release programs a priority--no proposal to reduce the number of repeat offenders is likely to succeed.

Jerome Sounds Off:

Quality of Life Crime #54: Selling cheap goods on the subway. (Good thing too, since mostly recent Chinese immigrants are in that racket nowadays, and with their mangling of the language and their haggard countenances, these people are comical at best, downright disturbing if you're in a bad mood. Not the kind of thing you want the tourists to see. Plus, they're cutting into Duracell and Doublemint sales at legitimate rent-paying stores. And remember the "broken-windows" theory – today they're selling yo-yos, tomorrow they're hawking stolen watches, pretty soon they're robbing you at gunpoint when you try to take the train! That's why I'm glad I saw a sting operation last week--six uniformed and two plainclothes officers nabbing two guys who, I was told, make thousands of dollars a week selling $1 batteries. It's a good thing these crooks are off the streets now, but not before pocketing our hard-earned George Washingtons and menacing our quality of life.)

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.

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.
  • Families Against Mandatory Minimums - As the nation's prison population nears 2 million inmates, most for non-violent (read: drug-related) offenses, even conservative commentators are seeking to repeal mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws. FAMM's site includes a brief history (including a section on NY's Rockefeller drug laws), updates on pending legislation, and stories from prisoners and their families.
  • NYC Dept. of Corrections - Dig a little to find revealing stats and information about NYC's jails (e.g. average annual cost per inmate, 1998: $45,026). In the archive section, check out the timeline of NYC's correctional facilities (did you know City Hall once housed dangerous prisoners in the basement?)
  • 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.

Visit the Topic Archives!

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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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