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Analysis Last Updated: May 31st, 2007 - 00:52:53

Rudy Giuliani: The rooster who made the sun rise
By Joseph Dillon Davey
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 31, 2007, 00:21

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The current polls indicate Rudy Giuliani is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. On September 10, 2001, the odds against such a situation were astronomical. New Yorkers were not unhappy about the prospect of Rudy leaving public service and it appeared that his political career was over. Giuliani�s leadership following September 11 was, if not actually Churchillian, at least a whole lot more inspiring than the seven and a half years that preceded that tragic attack. So it is with a note of admiration for his post-September 11 performance that I would like to set the record straight about Giuliani�s impact on crime in New York.

The public has widely accepted the idea that Rudy�s crime control methods miraculously brought down the crime rate in New York during his two terms as Mayor. There is very good reason to believe this is not so.

To give credit where credit is due, we should acknowledge that the �quality of life arrests� that the NY Police Department made under the Giuliani administration resulted in the removal of so many guns from the streets that the new policy -- aimed at squeegee men originally -- was largely responsible for the much publicized drop in gun homicides. Minor offenders found themselves subjected to a full custody arrest rather than a �cite and release� ticket. These arrests revealed an extraordinary number of handguns and, under the Sullivan Act, the perpetrator was likely to wind up doing a year at Riker�s Island. More and more guns were, accordingly, left home. However, while Giuliani has claimed much credit for this decrease, a closer look raises some questions.

For instance, between 1995 and 1999 there was a 32 percent decrease in homicides nationwide. While it is true that New York saw a decrease in homicide of 43 percent during this same period, other big cities did even better. Boston, for example, had a decrease in their homicide rate of 67 percent, Los Angeles 54 percent, New Orleans 48 percent and Richmond, Virginia saw a drop of 48 percent. Does Rudy also get credit for those extraordinary decreases?

No one is quite sure why big cities have seen such a dramatic decrease in homicide. Demographic patterns are at least partially responsible, along with low unemployment rates and the historically unprecedented growth of incarceration. But there are few criminologists who think having the right mayor is a very significant explanation for these decreases.

On the opposite end of the crime spectrum from homicide is the rate of minor offenses. Rudy was successful at driving off the �squeegee men� and discouraging panhandling and jay walking. However, his claims of great success at reducing the rate of felonies in the Big Apple are far from justified. What happened to crime rates elsewhere during Rudy�s regime?

The best method we have of counting crime is the National Crime Victimization Survey. (NCVS) The Survey was introduced in 1973 as an outgrowth of the Presidents Commission on Crime. It has been widely imitated around the industrialized world and is considered by criminologists to be the most accurate measure of crime ever devised. For the nation as a whole, the NCVS shows a spectacular decrease in serious crime in all 50 states during the years that Giuliani was the Big Apple�s mayor. A close look at the numbers suggests that nothing very special happened in New York.

Giuliani claims that reported felonies decreased by 57 percent during his two terms in office (going from 8,259 to 3,556 felonies per week). How does this compare with other cities in the northeast?

The drop in crime nationwide during the first six years of Giuliani�s mayoralty was close to 40 percent, (Personal Crimes down from 318.9 to 198; Property Crimes down from 52.2 to 33.7).Moreover, the pattern of decreases in crime during the nineties has shown that the biggest decreases came disproportionately in the largest cities, especially those in the Northeast. Giuliani may have enough of an inflated ego to claim his influence over the crime drop nationwide, but criminologists and political commentators should be expected to have a more discerning eye. And that is just part of it.

The major disadvantage of the NCVS is that it does not break down the figures by geographical location so that it does not provide us with figures on New York City. For the Big Apple, we only have the much less accurate figures from the FBI�s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). These are the figures that Rudy quoted in his State of the City speech.

The UCR depends on both the victim�s willingness to report the crime to the police and the police department�s willingness to characterize the crime as a �felony� and add it to the list of offenses sent to the FBI. By putting police administrators under pressure to lower the numbers, substantial changes can be brought about.

For example, about 65 percent of all felonies are �grand larcenies.� If a theft is reported to the police and the value of the thing stolen is less than $500, then the offense is a misdemeanor and will not be reported to the FBI. The police themselves are in the position of having to determine what the fair market value of the stolen property is.

Likewise, the majority of violent felonies are called �aggravated assault.� While they are included in the UCR, simple assaults are not. A �simple assault� is one that either does not involve a �deadly weapon� or does not involve �serious� injury. Again, the arresting officer is often able to characterize the �deadliness� of the weapon or the �seriousness� of the assault to determine whether or not a felony is being reported to them. (Some prosecutors ask how many stitches it took to stop the bleeding in order to determine if a felony or misdemeanor was committed)

As soon as Giuliani appointed William Bratton as Commissioner of NYPD things changed. In his book Turnaround: How America�s Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic, Bratton brags about the unprecedented pressure he put on precinct commanders to bring down crime statistics. These commanders were called to weekly meetings and excoriated if the crime numbers from their precincts were not decreasing.

In talking about these �Compstat� meetings, Bratton writes: � . . . one good way to bring your career to a screeching halt was to bomb there consistently. Compstat was police Darwinism; the fittest survived and thrived.� (P.234 Bratton) This direct connection between crime statistics and an administrator�s career had never been seen before.

�Each commander was called upon,� writes Bratton, �to report on his precinct about once a month, and we had his precinct�s numbers in front of us.�(p.232) He goes on to explain how the precinct commander would then pressure the platoon commander who in turn would pressure the sergeants to question individual patrol officer�s. Was that broom handle really a �deadly weapon�? Was that stolen 10-speed bike really worth over $500? Was that car really stolen or just borrowed without permission by a brother-in-law? The discretion of the officer would be pivotal and very often that same officer needed a favor from his sergeant.

There are lots of little things that can make a cop�s life more pleasant. Assignments vary greatly; days off must be approved by someone above you. It was in everyone�s interest to make the number drop -- and under Giuliani this was a greater factor in New York than anywhere else.

The top brass of the NYPD were pressured to lean on their troops. Those troops were the arresting officers who had the discretion to characterize offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. Quite by coincidence a reporter for the New York Post stumbled upon a perfect example of this process about six months after September 11. According to the Post:


March 14, 2002 -- EXCLUSIVE A Bronx police precinct is under investigation by NYPD Internal Affairs for allegedly doctoring crime statistics -- after The Post uncovered evidence that books were being cooked. Documents obtained by The Post show a rape recorded in the 50th Precinct was logged as a lesser crime -- thus giving a rare look into what some beat cops say is a statistical sleight of hand used by their commanders. According to many patrol officers, commanders sometimes reclassify major crimes like murder, assault, robbery and rape as lesser offenses to make it appear they are winning the war on crime. But downgrading crimes is a serious violation, and commanders in the past have been removed for such actions. In the incident at the 50th Precinct, the March 8 rape of a woman at a Bailey Avenue hotel was recorded as an �inconclusive� incident. Only on Tuesday, after The Post started asking questions, was the crime properly classified as rape. In the alleged sex attack, the suspect forced his estranged, 37-year-old wife to have sex at the hotel after she refused. The victim originally reported the attack to the 52nd Precinct, which classified it in its records as a sex assault. But after the assault was transferred to the 50th Precinct -- because of the hotel�s location -- it was downgraded to �inconclusive.� It remained inconclusive, even after the Bronx district attorney last Saturday charged the man with first-degree rape and other sex crimes. It was changed to a sex assault only yesterday, the same day a Post reporter phoned. On Tuesday, 50th Precinct commander Capt. Thomas DiRusso denied wrongdoing. �I have nothing to hide,� he said. The department routinely inspects precinct crime statistics for irregularities. Officers complain that commanders who reclassify crimes want to make it appear they are keeping crime down, thus boosting their chance for promotion. In 1998, Capt. Daniel Castro, a promising young commander and one of the department�s rising stars, lost his command after a review found he achieved an 80 percent crime drop after downgrading crimes like robbery and theft to �missing property.�

This unprecedented level of political pressure to reduce crime statistics could very well explain the rather minor differences between the fall in the New York crime rate and the fall in the national crime rate during the eight years of Giuliani�s administration. When two events occur simultaneously, there is a temptation to imply causation between the two. When Giuliani took office the Dow Jones average was about half of what it is today. Should Rudy be given credit for the economic boom across the country?

Rudy Giuliani may have had the good luck to serve as mayor during a period in which crime nationwide was falling at an unprecedented rate but we shouldn�t give the crowing rooster credit for the sunrise. And we should not rely upon cooked books of crime statistics to decide who should be our next president.

Joseph Dillon Davey is a professor in the Department of Law and Justice, Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J.

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