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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.”



  1. SkylineHigh2011Grad on October 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    The entire city below the 13 and 580 is a “hot spot”!

    • Leonard Raphael on October 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      Our Mayor and most of our City Council are more interested in playing off the “more cops” ves the “more social/antiviolence programs” factions against each other than they are at figuring out what the best strategies are from both camps.

      Depending on what the hot button issue of the day is, who’s up for reelection, our pols alternately promise one camp or the other what they want to hear, but in the end spend our tax money on raises to cops/fire and showering patronage on the non-profits which mobilize voters for their re-election.

      You can’t afford more cops unless you pay them less or at least drastically reduce the cost of their pensions. So while Libby S. and Pat K talk a good line about adding more cops, nothing will change till the issue of their compensation changes.

      eg. ask Libby or Pat why they allow OPD contracts that allow promotion of cops a year from retirement to a higher paying rank to turbo charge their retirements?

      or for that matter, all other city employees get promoted to a special pay category in their year.

      Answer: unions get politicians elected here.

      Measure I’s 11Mill won’t change that situation because we face +75Mill annual deficits.

      Throwing money at non-profit programs without competitive bidding and without rigorous evaluations of the results invites using them for patronage.

      Then you have other factions who wouldn’t consider for a second NY’s agressive stop and frisk (currently subject to a law suit there) than Zimring believes was a significant piece of NY’s success. (not to mention what Zimring mentions in his book: NYC added more cops than the entire City of Chicago had as it’s police force)

      Zimring got suckered into another Oakland politician run dog and pony show on crime.

      -len rahpael, temescal
      Vote Yes on Oakland
      by VOTING NO on H,I,J
      Recall Quan and most of the City Council

  2. Kevin Lee Thomason on October 28, 2011 at 8:22 am

    His words actually DID NOT ALIGN with Quan’s plan, in fact he made fun of the 100 Block Thingie.

    His plan actually aligns with what the churches are now doing, i.e., intervention and re-entry. He also pointed out many examples of where police staffing levels had nothing to do with crime reduction, and said a lot of it can’t even be accounted for by any sort of logic.

    He said that property crime *may* be related to staffing levels, but that violent crime was related mostly to factors OTHER than police. The only part where he thought police were definately useful in violent crime was in supressing open air drug markets.

    Don’t believe me? Google him, get his email, and as him yourself. I was sitting in the FRONT ROW, so I know exactly what he said.

    My Harmon, why would you say something that is not true?

    • Leonard Raphael on October 29, 2011 at 11:44 pm

      Kevin, I did not attend, but i have read his book. i think there was an article he wrote for Scientific American in August that’s on my list to read.

      The stuff i attributed to him was from his book, not his speech or the articl. Could be he’s changed his conclusions since the book came out. Likely, because the overwhelming them of the book was that no on knew for sure why NYC got such a drop in crime.


      Vote No on Quan’s H, I, J
      Recall Quan

  3. Self Defense Products on November 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I think it is great that New York has succeded in reducing its crime rates. Whatever it is they’re doing, it is an example to be followed, not only by Oakland, but by the people of the United States in general. I think one should also take proactive security measures of our own (as an individual) as well: it is not wise to leave everything in the police’s hands (they are already doing everything they can).

  4. Kevin Lee Thomason on January 15, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    “Who are they trying to protect? All the citizens or some?” – Bishop nailed it. . .

    I was there, front row, left.

    Same place I sit in my church. The most interesting thing to me was that other than me and Bishop, and maybe one or two other people, nobody there seemed to be anyone I know from East Oakland.

    The City would do well to listen to the churches, since the churches are essentially the ONLY organizations in Oakland that have a verifiable and historical track-record of producing results by saving lives.

    There is a 200 million dollar “ant-violence” program going on right now, and it has produced ZERO measurable results. . . I know this because I have access to the data.

    • Kevin Lee Thomason on January 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      LOL, I just realized I already posted. Well, my opinion has not changed, after another several hundred hours of work on this. . .

      Zimring may have some good ideas, as long as he realizes that Oakland is not New York. We have an entirely different culture here, different immigration patterns, cultures, laws, history, etc. . .

      Another person to listen to is his colleague over there at Berkeley. . . Zimring knows who I am talking about. . .


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