NYC "among the biggest success stories" in crime fighting

The Associated Press

From one of the murder capitals of the world more than a decade ago to one of the safest large US cities today, New York is among the biggest success stories in the United States' battle against crime.

Violent crimes and murders spiked in the late 1980s and early 90s as a crack cocaine epidemic hit the city, with rapes and robberies also at peak levels.

By last year, the number of murders in the city had fallen from more than 2,200 in 1990 to below 600, while the number of robberies tumbled from more than 100,000 to just over 23,500 over the same period.

While the numbers are not in doubt, experts are divided on how exactly the city managed to reverse the epidemic and who should get the credit.

Rudolph Giuliani took over as mayor in 1994, promising to rein in crime.

Giuliani's tactic was to crack down on so-called quality of life infractions and petty crimes such as vandalism, subway fare evasion and littering, while introducing "zero tolerance" for drug offences.

And while crime rates did fall under his mayoral term, which ended in 2001, experts point to the fact that crime as a whole fell in the United States during the same period, even if not as fast as it did in New York.

The number of police during the period was boosted under an initiative introduced by then-President Bill Clinton.

"I think the notion that Mayor Giuliani is single-handedly responsible for the drop in New York City's violent crime rate is an urban myth," said Professor Kendall Thomas of Columbia University's law school.

Crime, in fact, started to decline under Giuliani's predecessor David Dinkins.

Thomas identified community policing and the decision to focus police resources in problem areas as factors that helped to reduce crime and said the credit lay mostly with Dinkins and then police commissioner William Bratton.

Nevertheless, Giuliani is using his record on beating crime as a cornerstone of his campaign for the US presidency in 2008.

While police numbers and spending did increase after the peak of the city's crime wave in 1990, experts also point to falling crack cocaine use and a stronger economy as factors that also hit crime.

Still other factors cited in falling crime statistics include the aging population and increasing levels of home ownership.

Crime rates have continued to fall under Giuliani's successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who notably toughened gun ownership rules, making it much harder to buy a gun in the city and introduced a mandatory three and a half year prison sentence while for carrying an illegal weapon.

As to whether crime figures will carry on falling, experts suggest that the slide cannot continue indefinitely and that sooner or later the city will reach a hard core of crime that cannot be erased.

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