The August 2011 issue of Scientific American has an article entitled “How New York Beat Crime” that discusses how in the past two decades New York achieved the largest and longest sustained drop in street crime ever experienced by a big city. It has nothing to do with solving underlying problems of income inequity, poor education or improved housing, though obviously it would be excellent to solve all of those issues, too.
Keys to the success in reducing street crime were adding policemen, being much more aggressive and focusing on crime “hotspots” where serious crimes were being reported. This is not the same as “broken-windows policing” or “zero tolerance.” Patrols of police are deployed to crime hotspots, “…sometimes for weeks at a time, systematically stopping and frisking anyone who looks suspicious and staring down everyone else.”
Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out in New York that “…crimes prevented one day at a particular location do not ineluctably have to be committed somewhere else the day after.” It seems that police aggressiveness made some criminals just give up.
Perhaps not surprisingly, “…the street stops, bullying and pretext-based arrests fall disproportionately on young men of color in their own neighborhoods, as well as in other parts of the city where they may venture.” But here’s what’s important: “…the benefits of reduced crime also disproportionately favor the poor – ironically, the same largely dark-skinned young males who suffer most from police aggression now have lower death rates from violence and lower rates of going to prison than in other cities.” In short, what New York has been doing is working, though it’s impossible without more research to attribute the success to any one factor – except that police make a difference.
What does this have to do with Cleveland Heights? Unfortunately, some of our kids don’t have adults in their lives instructing them in how to behave properly. Not long ago, I was happy to see a police officer talking to one of our youth who was walking in the roadway about how dangerous and wrong that was. As I’ve been about our city this summer, I have been pleased to see that almost all of our kids have been walking on the sidewalks. It may not be easy, but we have to find ways to talk to kids about what the rules are – all kinds of rules – and why it’s important to obey them. It’s an important step in helping them to achieve their potential.
Our city is rightly highly regarded for safety, and we should keep expecting and demanding the best from everyone. When asked by a police officer why she had given her curfew-breaking child money to take the bus to Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, a Cleveland mother said it was because she knew the kid would be safe in our city. That was an ironic comment. But we should be proud of it.