Crime expert Frank Zimring suggests Oakland adopt New York’s crime reduction techniques
on October 26, 2011
On Sunday, Councilmembers Pat Kernighan (District 2) and Libby Schaaf (District 4) hosted a lecture by crime expert Franklin Zimring about New York City’s crime reduction successes and how Oakland could implement the same strategies to tackle crime.
“We can’t afford to squabble,” Schaaf said to the approximately 75 Oakland residents gathered at St. Lawrence O’Toole Church on High Street. “More time means we lose more lives.”
Zimring is a member of the American Society of Criminology and has been a UC Berkeley faculty member in the School of Law since 1985. His new book, “The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control,” details the strategies and techniques implemented to decrease New York’s crime rate. Over the last twenty years, even as the national crime has continually increased, New York City’s crime rate has dropped by 80 percent, according to Zimring.
According to Zimring, New York City had 2,275 homicides in 1990. But in 2009, the homicide rate was only 18 percent of what it had been in 1990.
In 2009 rape reports were only six percent of what is was in 1990; similar significant drops have happened with burglary, and auto theft, Zimring said.
“More than half of the drop in New York’s crime can’t be tied to the changes in the city,” said Zimring, pointing out that New York’s population and school systems had stayed the same during that time period. “Same people, same city, but a fabulous drop in crime.”
Zimring attributes New York City’s drop in crime to aggressive policing, drug and homicide reduction, and the city addressing its crime epidemic without implementing initiatives that would have led to increased incarceration.
Zimring said that the city’s expansion of its police presence and policing resources forced the crime rate down, and the productivity of the department increased substantially. The NYPD “went from being one of the softest to one of the most aggressive” police departments, he said.
When New York City expanded its police department, more cops were placed in “hot spot” areas where crime is what Zimring calls a “high velocity event.” In New York, this helped the city police public drug markets, Zimring said. While drugs sales did not cease, according to Zimring, “drug-related homicides did drop by 90 percent.”
“I’m going to conclude that an increase in manpower has probable success when it is used correctly,” Zimring said,
Zimring stressed that New York City’s crime reduction did not depend on mass imprisonment. The city has a significantly lower number of people in prison than in 1990, Zimring said.
Several of Zimring’s strategies are currently in use by the Oakland Police Department. OPD uses a “hot spots” mapping tool, a program that helps police identify high crime areas, the types of crime, and the most effective ways to respond. The Oakland Police Department partnered with the Urban Council Strategies to implement the city’s “hot spots” mapping program in late 2010. Zimring sees this tool as a “revolution” for Oakland, just like he believes it was for New York.
Oakland residents are in the process of voting on Measure I, a parcel tax that will be used for public safety initiatives and promises to put 200 officers back on the streets. Some city officials are pushing for those officers to focus on the city’s high crime areas. Two weeks ago at the Neighborhood Safety Summit, Mayor Jean Quan presented the “100 block plan,” a crime reduction plan that focuses on concentrating law enforcement and prevention support on the 100 city blocks with Oakland’s highest crime rates.
“Mayor Quan’s rolled out the 100 block plan and everything that he says aligns with it,” said Reygan Harmon, the mayor’s senior public safety policy advisor, after the Zimring’s lecture had concluded and attendees rushed to purchase copies of his book. “New York has the most effective long term strategy. It’s one thing to hear from elected officials, it’s another hearing it from the academic world.”
Reverend Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ in East Oakland found the lecture “interesting” but called it “mind boggling” that city officials have been aware of some of Zimring’s strategies but have not put them to use. “Police do not want to put themselves at the ‘hot spot’ areas. They do not want to put themselves in danger,” Jackson said. “Who are they trying to protect? All the citizens or some?”
Kernighan, who also serves as the president of the council’s Public Safety Committee, did not support all of the strategies Zimring outlined, but did believe that some of the techniques found to be effective in New York could “help Oakland focus on strategies.”
“There was no conclusive evidence that being aggressive was effective,” Kernighan said. “We can have police that are proactive and still impact crime.”
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