Project: Understanding the Crime Decline in New York City

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The 9th Annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Conference
Crime Trends Panel

Feb 10 2014

Project: Understanding the Crime Decline in New York City
Preeti Chauhan, Ph.D.
Our project (Principal Investigators Richard Rosenfeld and Karen Terry), assessed the state of knowledge with regard to the crime decline in NYC. We conducted a thorough review of the literature on if and why crime dropped in NYC. Based on this review and meetings with steering committee members, we commissioned 13 papers by content experts that identified factors underlying the crime drop in NYC, addressed methodological and statistical issues related to studying the crime drop, and investigated policing strategies as well as possible collateral consequences such as deteriorating police-community relationships associated with crime control strategies such as Stop, Question and Frisk.
These papers were presented at a two-day conference at John Jay College in September, 2011. All conference materials are available on the conference website Several of these papers also appeared in a special issue of Justice Quarterly (February, 2014) on the NYC Crime Decline. I am going to briefly discuss the lessons learned from this project – much of which is taken from the special issue of Justice Quarterly.
Lesson #1

NYC experienced a dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s. However, so did the rest of the nation and several Western countries (Baumer & Wolff, 2010). Therefore, part of why crime dropped in NYC may not be specific to the city but involve national-level factors or factors common among many Western nations. Studies by several researchers have suggested that the widespread crime drop might be related to economic improvements (Rosenfeld & Messner, 2009), technological innovations such as auto theft devices (Farrell et al., 2011), and reductions in lead exposure (Nevin, 2007). Notably, while crime has recently been on the rise in some cities, New York continues to experience a crime decline.

Lesson #2
Misdemeanor policing and transformation of drug markets has received the most attention with regard to the 1990s NYC crime decline. The most sophisticated research suggests that the role of misdemeanor policing is at best modest and related to reductions in gun related homicides and robberies (Messner et al., 2007, Rosenfeld et al., 2007), though some research suggests no such connection at all (Chauhan et al., 2012; Greenberg, 2014). The transformation of crack cocaine markets suggests a relationship to robberies and homicides, specifically Black homicides and homicides among 15-24 year olds (Cerdá et al., 2009; Chauhan et al., 2012; Messner et al., 2007; Rosenfeld et al., 2007; Greenberg, 2014).
We know less about why crime has continued to fall in New York since the turn of the century. Stop, Question, and Frisk (SQF) has often been cited by the New York Police Department and city officials as responsible for continuing crime reductions. The occurrence of SQF does overlap with crime incidents but the connection is far from perfect (correlations from .60 to .62; Weisburd, Telep, & Lawton, 2014). Other research suggests that SQF is not related to reductions in annual robbery and burglary rates at the precinct level (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014). However, police precincts are quite heterogeneous and SQF may have short-run effects on crime that are not detectable in annual data. Hence, our new research is examining the impact of SQF on monthly crime rates at the census tract, census block group and street segment level. The investigators for census tract and census block level analyses are Rick Rosenfeld and Robert Fornango and for the street segment level are David Weisburd, Sarit Weisburd, Sueming Yang, Brian Lawton and Alese Wooditch. Findings from this new research will be presented at a symposium at John Jay on February 18, 2014 ( note the site will go live within a week or two).
Lesson #3

Studies suggest that aggressive policing results in poor police-community relationships. At least half the NYC youth from 14- 21 years surveyed in one study, and a larger fraction of minority youth, had a negative experience with the police (Stoudt et al., 2012). Further, of those who experienced a negative contact with police, only 16% said they feel comfortable going to the police when having a problem. A report by the Vera Institute corroborated these findings among 13-25 years old. Less than half of their surveyed youth said they would report a violent crime even if they were the victim (Fratello, Rengifo, & Trone, 2013).

Baumer, E. P. & Wolff, K.T. (2014). Evaluating contemporary crime drop(s) in America, New York City, and many other places. Justice Quarterly, 31, 5-38.
Cerdá, M., Messner, S. F., Tracy, M., Vlahov, D., Goldmann, E., Tardiff, K.J., & Galea, S. (2010). Investigating the effect of social changes on age-specific gun-related homicide rates in New York City during the 1990s. American Journal of Public Health, 100, 1107-1115.
Cerdá, M., Tracy, M., Messner, S.F., Vlahov, D., Tardiff, K. J., & Galea, S. (2009). Misdemeanor policing, physical disorder, and gun-related homicide: a spatial analytic test of “broken windows” theory. Epidemiology, 20, 533-541.
Chauhan, P., Cerdá, M., Messner, S.F., Tracy, M., Tardiff, K., & Galea, S. (2011). Race/Ethnic-specific homicide decline in New York City: Evaluating the impact of broken windows policing and crack cocaine markets. Homicide Studies, 15, 268-290.
Farrell, G., Tseloni, A., & Tilley, N. (2011). The effectiveness of vehicle security devices and their role in the crime drop. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 11, 21-35.
Fratello, J., Rengifo, A., & Trone, J. (2013). Coming of age with stop and frisk: Experiences, self-perceptions, and public safety implications. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice.
Greenberg, D. (2014). Studying New York City’s crime decline: Methodological issues. Justice Quarterly, 31, 154-188.
Messner, S. F., Galea, S., Tardiff, K. J., Tracy, M., Bucciarelli, A., Piper, T. M., Frye, V., & Vlahov, D. (2007). Policing, drugs, and the homicide decline in New York City in the 1990s. Criminology, 45, 385-414.
Nevin, R. (2007). Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure. Environmental Research, 104, 315-336.
Rosenfeld, R., Fornango, R. & Rengifo, A. F. (2007). The impact of order maintenance policing on New York City

homicide and robbery rates: 1988-2001. Criminology, 45, 355-384.

Rosenfeld, R. & Fornango, R. (2014). The impact of police stops on precinct robbery and burglary rates in New York City, 2003-2010. Justice Quarterly, 31, 96-122.
Rosenfeld, R. & Messner, S.F. (2009). The crime drop in comparative perspective: The impact of the economy and imprisonment on American and European burglary rates. British Journal of Sociology, 60, 445-471.
Stoudt, B.G., Fine, M., & Fox, M. (2011). Growing up policed. Unpublished paper presented at the crime decline conference. John Jay College. Retrieved from
Weisburd, D., Telep, C.W., & Lawton, B.A. (2014). Could innovations in policing have contributed to the New York City crime drop even in a period of declining police strength?: The case of stop, question, and frisk as a hot spots policing strategy. Justice Quarterly, 31, 129-153.
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