Police Work and Homicide Rates

I agree with Radley Balko that – other things equal – less intrusive policing is better.

And of course we can all agree that it’s wonderful that Dallas, like other cities, now has an historically low murder rate.

But it’s also worth noting that – according to the news story Balko’s post links to – “historically low” for Dallas means 9 homicides per 100,000 population. The comparable figure for New York City is 4 per 100,000.

Does that prove that more intrusive policing (or a better social safety net, or higher alcohol taxes, or the availability of real bagels) reduces homicide? Of course not. But critics of NYPD tactics – including the undersigned – also need to acknowledge the truly spectacular drop in crime that coincided with the COMPSTAT era.

Footnote These figures are also unlikely to be cited by the “more guns, less crime” crowd. But it’s worth noting that NYC has not only an unusually low homicide rate, but an unusually low ratio of gun killings to total killings.

New York has notoriously ferocious gun laws, along with aggressive policing which – among its other effects – makes it much more likely that carrying an unlicensed firearm will lead to arrest. One of the striking findings from the crackdown on turnstile-jumping was the relatively high percentage of the arrestees who were illegally armed. But the even more striking finding was how much that percentage decreased after the crackdown started.

Can you say “deterrence”? I thought you could.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.