Letters; December 2011; Scientific American Magazine; by The Editors; 2 Page(s)
WHY CRIME DROPPED
In “How New York Beat Crime,” Franklin E. Zimring refers only incidentally to a decline since 1990 in the “percentage of the population in the most arrest-prone bracket, between 15 and 29,” in both New York and the nation. The nationwide decline in that age group must be a contributing factor to the crime drop in that city and the U.S. as a whole. The book Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, attributes the nationwide decline in crime to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion. The logic is that as more unwanted pregnancies are terminated, fewer unwanted (and unloved) children are born, so fewer will grow up to be criminals. And the timing is perfect for the decline in the arrest-prone age bracket.
Zimring’s analysis of the period of the New York City crime drop was excellent but failed to refer to what came before. As a result of the 1970 Knapp Commission investigation into police corruption in the city, the New York Police Department instituted rules and policies designed to stamp out corruption that had the unintended effect of encouraging an uncommonly docile police force. This docility continued through the 1990s until the appointment of William J. Bratton as police commissioner. The Bratton-led department ushered in novel changes in tactics and policies as well as raising the level of aggressive policing in the rank and file.