Crime's NYPD Blues

DON'T live your life in response to TV footage of violent crime in America's cities. Look, instead, at what hard fact reveals: Such crime is sharply down in the home of NYPD Blue and other big cities long reputed to be dangerous after dark.

Since last summer, debate has raged over the meaning of dramatical-ly falling urban violent crime statistics, notably in New York City. At first, some scholars derided the claim by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner, William Bratton, that savvy police department tactics were making their city safer.

Now, year-end statistics confirm the trend in unmistakable terms. Crimes of violence have taken the steepest drop since 1972. And this year's big drop, speeding a four-year trend, has had a citywide effect. It's not just silk-stocking districts with doormen that have seen violence shrink. Crowded poorer neighborhoods have recorded decreases ranging from 17 to 51 percent.

When the trend was first spotlighted last summer, some criminologists were doubtful. They cited several reasons for disagreeing with Bratton and Giuliani: Drug dealers had consolidated control of territories, ending shootouts with competitors. The aging of the baby boom was diminishing juvenile crime. Mandatory sentencing laws had lengthened prison stays

Some of these specialists warned that rising minority unemployment and out-of-wedlock births meant that any drop in crime statistics was either misleading or just temporary.

But analysis of the full-year statistics has led to substantial revision of this skepticism. Commissioner Bratton's tactics are given credit for cutting murders, assaults, auto thefts, robberies, and rapes. He has marshalled his police to get unregistered guns off the street. Beat-walking police have been instructed not to ignore drunkenness and public disturbances. Extra police are assigned to "hot spot" areas known for drug-dealing, stolen- car chop shops, or illegal gun-dealing.

In short, Bratton is bluntly showing that criminal behavior will not be tolerated. And it's working. People in other cities should take note - and take heart.

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