Crime & Delinquency, Apr99, Vol. 45 Issue 2, p171,
Greene, Judith A.
ZERO TOLERANCE: A CASE STUDY OF
POLICE POLICIES AND PRACTICES IN NEW
The police reforms introduced in New York City by William Bratton are
hailed by Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the epitome of "zero-tolerance" policing, and he
credits them for winning dramatic reductions in the city's crime rate. But the
number of citizen complaints filed before the Civilian Complaint Review Board has
jumped skyward, as has the number of lawsuits alleging police misconduct and
abuse of force. Comparison of crime rates, arrest statistics, and citizen complaints
in New York with those in San Diego--where a more problem-oriented community
policing strategy has been implemented--gives strong evidence that effective crime
control can be achieved while producing fewer negative impacts on urban
The 1998 New York City Mayor's Management Report lists many concrete
improvements in the quality of life in New York City, which Mayor Rudy Giuliani
believes have been won directly through the New York Police Department's
targeted approach to crime control--now held up by many observers as the epitome
of "zero-tolerance" policing. During the first half of 1997, New York City was
ranked 150th out of 189 U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000 for its
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Index Crime rate.(n1) In 1993, the year
Giuliani was elected mayor, New York City had been ranked 87th on this list.
The Mayor's office reports that from 1993 to 1997 the number of felony
complaints in New York City dropped by 44.3 percent: a 60.2 percent drop in
murders and nonnegligent homicides, a 12.4 percent drop in forcible rape, a 48.4
percent drop in robbery, and a 45.7 drop in burglary. Mayor Giuliani points out that
New York City is responsible for a large share of the overall crime reduction for
the country as a whole. Comparing data from cities of more than 100,000
population for the first half of 1997 with data from these cities in the first half of
1993, the mayor's management report asserts that New York City accounted for 32
percent of the overall drop in FBI Index Crimes, 29 percent of the drop in murders,
and 44 percent of the drop in larceny/thefts (New York City Mayor's Office of
The Mayor's office credits the New York Police Department's (NYPD's)
"Compstat"(n2) system for much of the progress made in reducing crime.
Compstat was introduced by Police Commissioner William Bratton, who had
served as commissioner for the first 27 months (from January 1994 to April 1996)
of Giuliani's first term as mayor. The Compstat system puts up-to-date crime data
into the hands of NYPD managers at all levels and bolsters a department-wide
process for precinct-level accountability in meeting the department's
As described in Bratton's recent book, Turnaround: How America's Top
Reversed the Crime Epidemic (Bratton 1998, p. 224), the Compstat system is built
on four concepts: (1) accurate and timely intelligence, (2) rapid deployment of
personnel and resources, (3) effective tactics, and (4) relentless follow-up and
assessment. Compstat is the engine that drives "zero-tolerance" policing in New
York City, and it is at the heart of the strategic organizational changes that Bratton
introduced when he took command of the NYPD in 1994 (Silverman 1997a).
Bratton moved vigorously to transform the police department from top
and to transfuse the department with a new mindset about what the police could
and should do to attack the problem of crime and reduce its impact on the residents
of the city. He directly confronted the common wisdom of many experts--and,
perhaps, most New Yorkers--that the NYPD was too large, too rigid, too
bureaucratic, and too parochial to be able to embrace the kinds of radical changes
in policies and practices that would be required in a serious effort to win
measurable reductions of the city's high crime rates. And he proved that they were
Zero-tolerance policing puts major emphasis on the kinds of "quality-of-life"
that set the drumbeat rhythm for Giuliani's 1993 mayoral campaign. The "Squeegee
Men" (beggars who accosted drivers in their cars to scrub their windshields and
panhandle for cash), the petty drug dealers, the graffiti scribblers, and the
prostitutes who ruled the sidewalks in certain high-crime neighborhoods all were
targeted in candidate Giuliani's campaign promise to reclaim the streets of New
York for law-abiding citizens.
Prior to his election, Giuliani's professional career had been spent
enforcement. It is no coincidence that these types of disorderly persons and
small-time criminals exactly fit the flesh-and-blood profile of the "broken windows"
theory of policing--an approach first promoted in 1982 by James Q. Wilson and
George Kelling. The broken windows theory holds that if not firmly suppressed,
disorderly behavior in public will frighten citizens and attract predatory criminals,
thus leading to more serious crime problems.(n3)
Although "reclaiming the open spaces of New York" was but one of six
crime strategies that Bratton designed and introduced to reshape the goals of the
NYPD,(n4) it was moved quickly to the front of the line when city officials began
to make the claim that the Giuliani administration's police reforms were causing the
decreases in crime. Cracking down hard on the most visible symbols of urban
disorder proved to be a powerful political tool for bolstering Giuliani's image as a
highly effective mayor. The speed with which the city's crime statistics have fallen
has been taken by many to prove that Wilson and Kelling are correct and that
serious crime problems can be quelled by mounting a large-scale attack on petty
crime and disorderly behavior through a broken windows, zero-tolerance strategy.
To at least some extent, rhetorical emphasis on the broken windows
served to obscure the truly phenomenal record that William Bratton set in managing
organizational change within the NYPD. As chief executive officer of one of the
world's largest police agencies, he introduced new management tools, techniques,
and technology at lightning speed and moved quickly to decentralize authority and
to wrest decision-making power away from headquarters brass and move it out to
the precinct and borough commands. He broke down a maze of bureaucratic
barriers--pushing, prodding, and (when necessary) replacing personnel. He was able
to integrate many of the police functions previously held by specialized units so as
to empower patrol officers to move directly to address drug and gun crimes in the
neighborhoods they serve (Silverman 1997a).
But Bratton's concept and style of police management has driven the
distinct and substantial distance apart from the community policing concepts that
have been used to reshape and redirect police services in many other American
cities. Moreover, some of these cities are closely rivaling the crime-reduction record
set in New York City.
Ironically, Bratton has broad knowledge of and deep experience with
policing. He was a leading innovator in the development of the neighborhood
policing concept while serving as a young officer in the Boston Police Department.
He has often publicly expressed solid confidence in the basic tenets of the
community policing movement--forging close working partnerships with the
community, problem solving to address the causes of crime, and a fundamental
commitment to crime prevention. He has also expressed a positive view of Lee
Brown's role as a community policing pioneer. Brown had served as Police
Commissioner under David Dinkins, Giuliani's predecessor as mayor.
Dinkins and Brown were the architects of New York City's "Safe Streets"
which has since added thousands of new police officers to the force. In 1991, their
successful campaign for passage of the Safe Streets Law provided revenue from a
city income tax surcharge to finance a balanced program of crime prevention
programs and to expand the police force by 6,000 patrol officers. Safe Streets
funding for crime prevention laid a neighborhood-based foundation of prevention
programs, including the Beacon Schools and a network of other vital services
targeted on high-risk youth.
An ambitious gun interdiction program was initiated during the Dinkins
administration by Assistant Police Commissioner Jeremy Travis, who now heads
the National Institute of Justice. This effort was spurred forward in 1993 by the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms--then under the leadership of Ronald
Noble at the Department of Justice. The well-publicized 1993 interdiction campaign
predated the Bratton/Giuliani gun strategy and involved capture of several large
stores of weapons before they reached the hands of teenagers on New York City
The early foundation for community policing in New York had been laid
in the mid
1980s--during the Koch administration--through a joint NYPD/ Vera Institute of
Justice pilot effort. Once the Safe Streets program was in place, Commissioner
Brown was able to design and build a citywide community policing program. Yet,
in his book, Turnaround, Bratton abruptly dismissed this community-policing effort
(already in place when he was named Police Commissioner) in three brief
In Turnaround, Bratton maintained (1998, p. 198) that the program--although
focused on the beat cop--had no real focus on crime, and he complained that the
young officers assigned to community-policing beats were unprepared and ill
equipped to handle the complex issues that underlie the crime problem in New
York City. Moreover, he charged, even those few capable of winning significant
results were never given the necessary authority to follow through under the
NYPD's system of centralized decision making.
In a 1996 lecture sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Bratton discussed
flaws that he perceives in the community policing initiatives of the early 1990s. He
argued that community policing in New York was hampered by a lack of attention
to those quality-of-life issues that cause widespread fear of crime among the public
and by an unwieldy and highly centralized, overspecialized police bureaucracy.
Bratton had served from 1990 to 1992 as chief of the New York Transit Police
(the agency then responsible for patrolling the city's vast subway system), and he
had observed the NYPD's community policing effort up close. At Transit, he
pursued a successful quality-of-life policing campaign that consisted of large-scale
arrests of young New Yorkers for fare evasion, which he credits with greatly
reducing more serious subway crime (Bratton 1996).
Once recruited by Mayor-elect Giuliani to serve as commissioner of the
Bratton used his prior experience combating subway crime as a springboard into a
citywide campaign to aggressively apprehend the perpetrators of quality-of-life
crimes on the streets. Bratton's managerial reforms were brilliantly innovative,
using up-to-the-minute technology. But at the neighborhood level, his crime-fighting
strategies were grounded in traditional law enforcement methods and in relentless
crackdown campaigns to arrest and jail low-level drug offenders and other petty
perpetrators. His efforts to decentralize and devolve decision-making authority
downward have relocated power at the precinct command level rather than
empowering patrol officers to plan and implement crime prevention efforts in
partnership with the communities they serve.
Bratton's crime-prevention concepts are more often cloaked in military
metaphors--"in New York City, we now know where the enemy is" (Bratton
1996)--than in the public-health/epidemiological images now more common in
community-focused prevention efforts elsewhere. And his quality-of-life
law-enforcement style was hyperaggressive. In Turnaround, Bratton (1998)
describes how his school truancy program grabbed so many school-age kids off the
streets that "we had to set up 'catchment' areas in school auditoriums and
gymnasiums" (p. 225). He retooled New York City's drug enforcement effort to
target more muscle toward low- and middle-level dealers, and he lifted a
longstanding police policy that discouraged drug enforcement arrests by patrol
officers--freeing them to seek warrants, make narcotics arrests, and go after those
they suspected of drug dealing for quality-of-life violations to sweep them off the
streets and into the jails (Bratton 1998, p. 227).
Bratton attacked the legal restrictions that had impeded aggressive
against those deemed disorderly. He "took the handcuffs off" the police department
and unleashed patrol officers to stop and search citizens who were violating the
most minor laws on the books (e.g., drinking a beer or urinating in public), to run
warrant checks on them, or just to pull them in for questioning about criminal
activity in their neighborhood. If, in the course of such an incident, a weapon was
found and confiscated, Bratton asserts that it was lawful prevention of crime
"before it happened" (Bratton 1998, p. 229).
If, as its keystone crime-prevention strategy, New York City has turned
community policing and chosen instead a zero-tolerance campaign that is heavily
reliant on traditional methods of law enforcement to eradicate quality-of-life
problems, what negative consequences have resulted from this choice? And which
New Yorkers have borne the brunt of these negative consequences?
Joel Berger--a prominent New York City civil rights attorney who represents
alleged victims of police misconduct and abuse in New York City -- reports that
legal filings of new civil rights claims against the police for abusive conduct have
increased by 75 percent in the city over the last four years.(n5) Berger says that the
largest increase in new claims of this type occurred during the most recent fiscal
year, indicating that the problem of police brutality is getting worse, not better
(interview with Joel Berger, May 4, 1998).
Amnesty International has reported that police brutality and unjustifiable
force is a widespread problem in New York City (Amnesty International 1996).
There is a wealth of documentation to support the charge that police misconduct
and abuse have increased under the Giuliani administration's zero-tolerance regime.
The total number of citizen complaints filed annually with the Civilian Complaint
Review Board (CCRB) increased more than 60 percent between 1992 and 1996,
and Mark Green--the elected New York City public advocate--has charged that the
police torture of Abner Louima in a precinct station house in the Borough of
Brooklyn in the summer of 1997 was part of a larger "pattern of police abuse,
brutality, and misconduct" in New York City that the Giuliani administration has
failed to address (Green 1997).(n6)
Joel Berger says that during the first year of the Giuliani administration,
of complaints filed by citizens before the CCRB that involved incidents where no
arrest was made or summons issued showed a sudden and sharp increase. The
proportion of "general patrol incidents"--that is, civilian complaints associated
simply with routine police contacts (involving no suspicion of criminal activity, no
hot pursuit, no arrest or summons)--among all complaints increased from 29
percent for the last year of the Dinkins administration to 58 percent under Mayor
Giuliani. After 1994, the CCRB stopped distinguishing this particular type of
complaint from others (interview with Joel Berger, May 4, 1998).
Complaints by citizens in New York City about police misconduct and
the response to these complaints by the New York City CCRB and the NYPD,
have been the subject of hot debate between some resistant city officials and those
who advocate for a more effective process to increase police accountability for
abuse of citizens. From the start, Mayor Giuliani resisted the effort to establish an
independent CCRB. By the time it was set up, its budget had been slashed by 17
percent (about a million dollars) as compared with the police department-based
civilian complaint unit it had replaced (Siegel and Perry 1997, p. 2).(n7)
According to New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, recent CCRB
complaint data suggest that the problem of police misconduct is disproportionately
concentrated in New York City's high-crime minority neighborhoods. Nine out of
76 precincts account for more than 50 percent of the increase in CCRB complaints
since 1992; 21 precincts account for more than 80 percent. Mark Green charges
that those precincts with the highest incidence of misconduct "appear to have
disproportionately higher percentages of African American and Latino residents"
(Green 1997, p. 4). Norman Siegel--director of the New York Civil Liberties Union
(NYCLU) and a harsh critic of the mayor on these issues--has presented data
showing that three quarters of all CCRB complaints are filed by African Americans
and Latinos. He reports that African Americans (who make up 29 percent of the
city's population) filed 53 percent of all complaints in 1996 (Siegel and Perry 1997,
Moreover, the vast majority of complaints filed with the CCRB are never
substantiated, and the small portion that are substantiated usually do not result in
proper disciplinary actions. In the first eight months of last year, only 8 percent of
the 3,991 cases filed with the CCRB were substantiated. Furthermore, Public
Advocate Mark Green has complained that so few substantiated cases ever result in
charges brought or disciplinary actions taken by the police department that the
civilian complaint process is a sham (Green 1997).
This brief review of the downside costs that many New Yorkers argue
incurred through the city's reliance on a highly aggressive, traditional
law-enforcement style of policing begs the benefits question: Is there hard evidence
that this strategy has been truly effective in reducing crime? How valid are the
claims made by Mayor Giuliani that his police policies are responsible for the city's
remarkable crime reduction record?
The declining crime rate that New Yorkers are enjoying has not happened
vacuum, nor is it as exceptional as some New York officials suggest. Many urban
communities across America have experienced reductions in crime during the same
time period, and it is highly likely that there are numerous factors--beyond
zero-tolerance policing--that might be contributing to these remarkable declines in
some of the nation's largest cities.
Serious violent crime rates have been falling for the nation as a whole.
National Crime Victimization Survey crime-trends data (1973-1996) published by
the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that rapes declined 60 percent from 1991 to
1996, whereas robberies began to decline more recently; Robberies were down 17
percent from 1994 to 1996. Aggravated assaults declined by 27 percent from 1993
to 1996. The victimization data show that total violent crime was down 19 percent
from 1994 to 1996. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate
that the nation's homicide rate fell by 10 percent from 1991 to 1995.(n8) Property
crimes are also on the decline for the nation as a whole, according to the National
Crime Victimization Survey. The rates reported for total property crime show a 25
percent decline from 1991 to 1996 (National Center for Health Statistics 1998;
National Crime Victimization Survey 1998).
It has been argued by many that widespread innovations in police practices
made a major contribution to reducing crime--from the zero-tolerance campaign in
New York City to community-policing strategies involving problem solving and
police/community partnerships elsewhere. Yet, crime has fallen substantially in
some locales where these reforms have not been embraced.
The huge increase in the incarceration rate resulting from mandatory
laws, "three strikes, you're out" laws, and other policy shifts producing longer
prison terms are claimed by almost all proponents of these "get tough" approaches
to be the force driving crime rates downward. But increased incarceration doesn't
seem to explain many of the differences found when states are compared. New
York City has experienced one of the sharpest declines in violent crime, but its jail
population is down, and the New York state prison population growth rate slowed
to less than one percent in 1997. The state's prison population growth rate has been
relatively modest during the 1990s compared to states such as Texas and
California. Crime rates were already beginning to fall before the state of
Washington became the first to pass three-strikes legislation in 1993. Most states
are enjoying declining crime rates regardless of whether they have such laws.
American researchers, law-enforcement officials, and journalists have
generated a huge stack of books, reports, and articles to explain what is driving
these cheering trends--as yet, no clear consensus about the reasons has emerged,
even among those who most closely study American crime trends. It is probably
fair to say that those who hold either of the traditional competing theories about the
etiology of crime in America--the liberal belief that economic inequity and racial
injustice are prime contributing factors or the conservative view that blames an
erosion of social values--have so far failed to offer any coherent, convincing
explanations of recent national crime trends.
If there is an ascendant theory among American criminologists, it
may be simply
stated: No single factor, cause, policy, or strategy has produced the drop in crime
A variety of structural changes in high-crime urban neighborhoods are
many experts as plausibly combining to produce declining crime rates. Many
academic experts have long held that demographic factors are the most significant
contributors to crime rates. Overall crime rates (as distinct from violent street
crime) have been drifting downward for many years, as has alcohol consumption--a
factor strongly associated with a broad range of criminal activity. America's healthy
economy has produced low unemployment rates, another factor generally
associated with lower crime rates.
Overall shifts in public attitudes regarding the problem of crime and
public intolerance for various types of disorderly conduct that are believed to be
criminogenic have stimulated moves toward the policing reforms and the "get
tough" measures cited above, but they have also led to a raft of community
organizing activities that may be paying off in reduced levels of crime. As discussed
below, block watches, citizen patrols, neighborhood cleanups, and harassment of
slumlords who allow drug dealers to use their properties are increasingly being
coordinated with community-oriented police techniques.
The binge of drug and/or gang-related violence in the 1980s left
disabled, or in prison. Some argue that these casualties are now shaping marked
shifts in values and attitudes among urban youth. Demand for crack cocaine has
waned and--stimulated by tougher police enforcement against handguns--minor
confrontations are said to be less likely to erupt into deadly shootouts.
Street-level drug markets in America generate violence in a variety
including internal organizational disputes, contract uncertainty, and territorial
conflicts. Changes in the characteristics of drug markets or of participants in them
may have contributed to the decline in violent crime rates over recent years. Those
who entered this volatile, violence-prone, illegal labor market in the mid-1980s and
who have survived are now a decade or more older, more experienced--and
perhaps wiser--in their business practices and enforcement methods.
Recently, much social science research attention has turned to the declining
homicide rates in many cities across the country. A team of researchers led by
Pamela Lattimore (Lattimore, Trudeau, Riley, Leiter, and Edwards 1997) at the
National Institute of Justice has discovered a strong correlation between cocaine
use levels within the urban criminal population and changes in homicide rates.
Alfred Blumstein (1995) has studied handgun murders involving urban street youth.
He has pointed out that the surge in this type of gun violence in the late 1980s has
drawn attention away from the more long-term and steady trend of declining
homicides for adults age 25 and older since 1980. The surprising decline in
homicides since 1991 is driven largely by the falling incidence of gun homicides
among the younger group.
The decline in homicides among older Americans cited by Blumstein includes
steady decline in national rates of intimate-partner homicide over the past two
decades. Laura Dugan (Dugan, Nagin, and Rosenfeld, forthcoming) has traced the
effects of three significant social developments on this type of homicide: changes in
patterns of domesticity (exposure reduction), in the status of women, and in
increased provision of domestic violence resources. Her research highlights the
importance of legal advocacy efforts to expand the effective use and enforcement
of restraining orders, although these measures are shown to favorably affect
homicide rates solely for married male victims. Susan Wilt (1998; Wilt, Illman, and
BrodyField 1997) has been tracking homicides in New York City using data from
the public health system. She has found that homicides of female victims have
fallen far more slowly since 1990 than the decline for male victims (a 20 percent
decline for females compared to a 51 percent decline for males). Wilt was able to
obtain data to classify homicides by type, and she found that over this period,
intimate partner homicides of women have not declined in New York City.
Jeffrey Fagan is conducting an important study of homicides in New York
geared specifically to documenting the effects of criminal justice policies on this
problem. Fagan, along with Franklin Zimring and June Kim (1999), has just
completed a report that examines homicide patterns in the city back to the 1950s
and compares the recent decline with homicide patterns in other American cities.
By tracking homicide trends by type since 1985, they have determined that patterns
in New York City for gun and non-gun killings differ sharply. The trend data for
non-gun homicides show a fairly steady decline through the whole period, whereas
gun homicides doubled between 1985 and 1991, returning to the 1985 level by
Examining trends in drug use and demographics, Fagan et al. (1999) believed
to be important factors but could not say to what extent they have influenced the
decline. They have concluded that both the increase in patrol strength begun under
Mayor Dinkins and the aggressive enforcement strategies introduced by William
Bratton have had positive effects in reducing gun homicides--as distinct from the
non-gun homicides, which began a long, steady decline many years before these
tactics were introduced. They posited that the NYPD gun strategy may be the most
salient factor. At the same time, they cautioned that it is not possible to
unequivocally establish the strength of these policing strategies relative to the other
factors that are interacting with the shifts in police practices. Moreover, they
warned that simple regression (i.e., the tendency of crime problems to shift
continuously, up and down, drawing cyclical patterns over time) cannot yet be
ruled out as the cause of the recent decline in gun homicides.
Given the wide variety of explanations offered by the experts and the
challenges entailed in sifting and weighing their relative merits, a broad, overarching
theory or model into which the entire range of plausible alternatives could be
scooped together would have great appeal. Malcolm Gladwell (1996), a writer for
The New Yorker magazine, has carefully considered the phenomenon of dropping
crime rates in New York City. He offers an interesting theory--drawn from the
annals of public health--that provides some clues about how distinctly divergent
factors in disparate locales might result in similar patterns of falling crime.
In his 1996 The New Yorker article, "The Tipping-Point," Gladwell
public health expression as "the point at which an ordinary and stable
phenomenon--a low-level flu outbreak--can turn into a public health crisis" (p. 34).
Applied to the phenomenon of crime, this epidemiological argument means that
once crime reaches a certain level or critical point, it spreads in a "non-linear"
fashion--that is, at some point in time a small incremental increase in criminal
activity can fuel a dramatic upturn in crime rates. One example that Gladwell gives
involves drive-by shootings in Los Angeles, which, after seven years of fluctuating
up and down between 22 and 51, rose steadily from 57 in 1987 to 211 in 1992.
Happily, the tipping-point phenomenon may also apply in reverse.
When the level
of crime in a community reaches a tipping point, any strategy that can effect even a
small decrease may be able to trigger dramatic drops in crime rates. But the
tipping-point theory also implies layers of subtle complexity that must be carefully
assessed in the development of crime control policies because when the level of
crime is not at or near the tipping point, large investments in crime-fighting activities
may yield very small effects if any (Gladwell 1996).
Although the social scientists cited above do not offer much evidence
supports Mayor Giuliani's assertion that his zero-tolerance policies alone have
directly produced the crime reductions reported by the NYPD, other questions
remain to be addressed. Expert opinion notwithstanding, suppose it is true that a
new policing strategy can turn the tide of crime and produce a dramatic ebb in its
volume? Is a New York City zero-tolerance campaign the only possible approach?
Is it the best approach? What other options should be considered? Are there other
theories about effective crime control that can help us answer these questions?
Tracey Meares (1998), a law professor at the University of Chicago,
studying the role of community social organization in reducing crime. She points
out that certain critical mediating factors can produce differential crime rates in
communities with similar socioeconomic conditions. If stronger elements of social
organization--cohesive friendship networks, shared cultural values, supervision of
teens, participation in church groups, parent-teacher associations, community
policing organizations, and so forth--are present in a given neighborhood, crime will
be less common than in neighborhoods where these elements have eroded.
Meares (1998) has applied this framework to critique the efficacy of
enforcement strategies--especially drug enforcement efforts--to enhance or hinder
crime control in communities. She argues that whereas "get tough" measures that
lead to lengthy incarceration of a large number of young drug offenders may offer a
measure of short-term relief for law-abiding residents of a drug-ravaged
community, in the long run, the negative consequences may wash out the
short-term positives. This is because the deterrent effects of such a strategy are
weak at best, whereas its damaging effects--disruption of family ties, stigmatizing
barriers to labor market participation, increased levels of alienation and
distrust--may prove criminogenic in themselves.
This may be especially true in African American communities, where
asymmetry of current drug-enforcement policies has exacerbated longstanding
attitudes of distrust between residents and police that are grounded in both negative
stereotypes and historical events. On the other hand, Meares (1998) argues,
community policing efforts geared to support increased social organization in
communities can yield important gains in crime control. Within this context, she
endorses some specific, targeted disorder-reducing law enforcement measures:
curfews, enforcement of loitering ordinances, and "reverse drug stings" to dampen
One city located at the opposite end of the country from New York has
distinctly different path in pursuit of crime prevention and effective policing, which
in some respects may more closely follow the principles that Tracey Meares (1998)
commends to us. Whereas New York City's index crime rate ranks 150th in a list
of 189 American cities with populations of more than 100,000, San Diego ranks
nearby at 145th (New York City Mayor's Office of Operations 1998). San Diego
and New York City have enjoyed virtually equal reductions in rates of serious
crime over the first half of the 1990s. From 1990 to 1995, a period when the
NYPD gained a 39.5 percent increase in the number of sworn officers, New York
City's reduction in crime was 37.4 percent, whereas San Diego's was 36.8 percent,
but during this same period the increase in sworn officers on the San Diego police
force was only 6.2 percent. According to San Diego police officials, this is a far
more favorable "yield" in terms of crimes reduced per each additional officer (San
Diego Police Department 1998).
San Diego's police executives began to experiment with a form of
policing--the Neighborhood Policing Philosophy as they term it--in the late 1980s.
In 1993, they laid the groundwork for a department-wide restructuring process
coupled with an effort to retrain the entire force in problem-oriented (as opposed to
incident-based) policing methods. Two key concepts of neighborhood policing in
San Diego--as described by San Diego Police Department (SDPD) officials--are
that police and citizens share responsibility for identifying and solving crime
problems and that law enforcement is one important tool for addressing crime, but
it is not an end in itself.
The emphasis of the San Diego neighborhood-policing approach is on creating
problem-solving partnerships and fostering connections between police and
community for sharing information, working with citizens to address crime and
disorder problems, and tapping other public and private agencies for resources to
help solve them. The types of activities fostered by the neighborhood policing
strategy in San Diego resemble many that are common elements of community
policing elsewhere, such as the following:
• support for "neighborhood watch" and citizen patrol groups that
suspicious activity, identify community problems, and work on crime prevention
• use of civil remedies and strict building code enforcement to abate
properties and close down "drug houses"; and
• collaboration with community organizations and local business groups
to clean up,
close down, or redesign specific locations and properties that repeatedly attract
prostitution, drug, and gang problems.
The role of organized neighborhood volunteers in efforts to impact local
problems--and thus national crime patterns--is too often overlooked or
misunderstood. There are important differences between community policing and
community participation,(n9) yet San Diego seems to be striving to integrate these
distinct, semiautonomous crime prevention tools. The SDPD has recruited and
trained a pool of more than 1,000 citizen volunteers who perform a broad array of
crime prevention and victim assistance services.
The restructuring of police services in San Diego has involved a geographic
consolidation of 68 existing patrol sectors and a reconfiguration of their boundaries
to correspond to 99 distinct neighborhoods defined by community residents.
Laptop computers equipped with mapping software are now being introduced to
automate field reporting and to put up-to-date crime and calls-for-service data into
the hands of patrol officers (San Diego Police Department 1997).
Descriptions of the neighborhood policing approaches given by police
San Diego are different in tone and texture from the terms in which Giuliani and
Bratton have described New York City's policing strategies. A comparison of arrest
patterns in recent years offers concrete evidence that these two approaches differ
markedly in fact. New York City's data show increases in arrests both for felonies
and misdemeanors from 1993 to 1996, whereas San Diego arrest data show
Data from the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services
through 1996 show that arrests in New York City rose by 23 percent across the
board. Reflecting the broken windows, zero-tolerance policing strategy introduced
by Bratton, misdemeanor arrests rose by 40 percent--led by drug arrests, which
were increased by 97 percent over this period.
Arrest statistics provided by the SDPD for this same period show a marked
contrast, reflecting the contrasting philosophy of neighborhood policing adopted in
Across the board, arrests have fallen in San Diego by 15 percent, whereas
reductions for key indicators of crime (homicides and FBI Index Crimes) closely
rival the crime reductions in New York City. Total complaints filed during this
period with the SDPD regarding police misconduct fell from 552 in 1993 to 508 in
1996 (interview with John Welter, June 1998).
San Diego police executives are understandably pleased with the recent
drop in crime in their city. However, they have been less inclined than their
counterparts in New York City to estimate the extent to which these trends may be
directly attributed to the department's neighborhood policing and
At a recent workshop on crime policy sponsored by the Institute on Criminal
Justice of the University of Minnesota law school, John Welter, the assistant chief
of police responsible for managing neighborhood policing in San Diego, said simply
that his department is working hard to build a solid foundation that can sustain
these gains into the future, when--inevitably, in his view--various cyclical factors
will drive crime upward again across the nation. Welter believes that the San Diego
neighborhood policing approach will offer more enduring public safety gains than
more enforcement-oriented strategies that have been adopted elsewhere.
Twenty years ago, Herman Goldstein (1979) published an article in this
called for a more "problem-oriented approach" to policing. In his seminal article,
Goldstein argued that internal police management reforms would yield limited
returns in improving outcomes unless the police could develop "a more systematic
process for examining and addressing the problems that the public expects them to
handle" (p. 236). Zero-tolerance policing in New York City uses the Compstat
system to direct hyperaggressive crimecontrol tactics toward high-crime "hot
spots," and city officials have been quick to claim credit for a dramatic drop in
crime. Yet, the sharp contrast in arrest patterns and citizen complaints between
New York City and San Diego offers compelling evidence that cooperative
police-community problem solving can provide effective crime control through
more efficient and humane methods. Moreover, the San Diego strategy seems
better designed to support and sustain vital elements of community social
organization that can inhibit criminality and build safer neighborhoods over the long
The author would like to thank two New Yorkers, Jerome McElroy and David
Eichenthal, whose insights about police practices were helpful for writing this
(n1.) This is a crime indicator (the number of crimes per 100,000 persons)
calculated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's national crime data system,
which is used to produce national reports on the number of selected
offenses--murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape,
aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson--known
to the police.
(n2.) "Compstat" is an abbreviation for "computer statistics" (Bratton
(n3.) Bratton (1998) presents a synopsis of the broken windows theory
"Just as unrepaired broken windows can signal to people that nobody cares about a
building and lead to more serious vandalism, untended disorderly behavior can also
signal that nobody cares about the community and lead to more serious disorder
and crime" (p. 152).
(n4.) The other five strategies were "getting guns off the streets of
"curbing youth violence in the schools and on the streets," "driving drug dealers out
of New York," "breaking the cycle of domestic violence" and "reducing
auto-related crime in New York" (Silverman 1997b, p. 101).
(n5.) Until 1996, Joel Berger served as senior litigator in New York
Corporation Counsel's Office. He was responsible for monitoring police brutality
cases and deciding which defendants would be represented by lawyers in his office.
(n6.) William Bratton has attributed this increase in complaints of
misconduct to the increased number of police officers on the streets. His critics
point out that the increase in complaints far exceeded the increase in personnel
during this period.
(n7.) The level of funding support for the independent Civilian Complaint
Board (CCRB) continued to be a topic of contention between the Mayor's office
and the New York City Council until recently, with the former continually
proposing funding cuts and the latter continually restoring these cuts. When the
Abner Louima incident erupted in headlines in the summer of 1997, however, the
Mayor's office--in a complete reversal--requested two separate budget increases:
approximately $1.5 million in December 1997 and another $.5 million in the Fiscal
Year 1999 Executive Budget. Upon adoption of the Fiscal Year 1999 budget, the
CCRB's authorized staffing level was increased to a total of 172 positions, an
increase of 44 positions over the Fiscal Year 1998 budget (New York City Council
Finance Division 1998).
(n8.) These aggregate national statistics are by no means mirrored uniformly
communities, however. For example, considerable variance among cities was found
in a recent study of homicides in urban settings undertaken by an intramural team
of researchers at the National Institute of Justice. The research team reported that
of 78 cities with populations greater than 200,000, more than half showed a higher
homicide rate in 1994 than in 1990 (Lattimore, Trudeau, Riley, Leiter, and
(n9.) Whereas community policing engages neighborhood residents in identification
of crime problems and in planning crime-control strategies, community participation
entails residents becoming directly involved in crime prevention activities and in
effecting structural solutions to the neighborhood problems that give rise to crime.
TABLE 1: Adult Arrests in New York City
Legend for Chart:
B - 1993
C - 1994
D - 1995
E - 1996
A B C D E
Total arrests 255,087 307,802 316,690 314,292
Total felony arrests 125,684 138,043 135,141 132,601
Felony drug arrests 39,298 44,442 43,698 45,312
Total misdemeanor arrests 129,403 169,759 181,549 181,691
Misdemeanor drug arrests 27,446 42,546 52,891 54,133
Misdemeanor DWI arrests 5,621 5,628 5,763 4,624
Other misdemeanor arrests 96,335 121,585 122,895 122,934
NOTE: DWI = driving while intoxicated.
TABLE 2: Adult Arrests in San Diego
Legend for Chart:
B - 1993
C - 1994
D - 1995
E - 1996
B C D E
Total arrests 56,631 55,887 55,909 48,264
Total felony arrests 17,007 17,135 16,854 13,825
Felony drug arrests 5,808 6,432 6,685 5,034
Total misdemeanor arrests 39,624 38,752 39,055 34,439
Misdemeanor drug arrests 7,099 8,313 7,965 6,352
Misdemeanor DWI arrests 3,782 3,649 3,749 3,545
Other misdemeanor arrests 28,743 26,790 27,341 24,542
NOTE: DWI = driving while intoxicated.
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By Judith A. Greene
JUDITH A. GREENE: Senior Fellow, Institute on Criminal Justice, University
Minnesota Law School.