Skip to comments.Did Giuliani really bust N.Y.C. crime - or was it science?
Posted on 07/09/2007 1:32:26 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Rudy Giuliani never misses an opportunity to remind people about his track record in fighting crime as mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001.
"I began with the city that was the crime capital of America," Giuliani, now a candidate for president, recently told Fox's Chris Wallace. "When I left, it was the safest large city in America. I reduced homicides by 67 percent. I reduced overall crime by 57 percent."
While crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax, Va., who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce exposure to lead poisoning.
The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical explanation for fluctuations in the crime rate and is based on studies linking exposure to lead in children with violent behavior later in their lives.
What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.
"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to 90 percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead." Through much of the 20th century, lead in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes poisoned toddlers as they put contaminated hands in their mouths. The consequences on crime, Nevin found, occurred when poisoning victims became adolescents. Nevin does not say lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it's the biggest.
Giuliani's presidential campaign declined to address Nevin's contention that the mayor merely was at the right place at the right time. But William Bratton, who served as Giuliani's police commissioner and initiated many of the policing techniques credited with reducing the crime rate, dismissed Nevin's theory as absurd. Bratton and Giuliani instituted harsh measures against quality-of-life offenses, based on the "broken windows" theory of addressing minor offenses to head off more serious crimes.
Many other theories have emerged to explain the crime decline. In the 2005 book Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner said the legalization of abortion in 1973 had eliminated "unwanted babies" who would have become violent criminals. Other experts credited lengthy prison terms for violent offenders, or demographic changes, socioeconomic factors, and the rise and fall of drug epidemics.
Most of the theories have been long on intuition and short on evidence. Nevin's data not only explain the decline in crime in the 1990s, but the rise in crime in the 1980s, and other fluctuations going back a century. His data from multiple countries, which have different abortion rates, police strategies, demographics and economic conditions, show lead is the only explanation that can account for international trends.
Because the countries phased out lead at different points, they provide a rigorous test: In each instance, the violent crime rate tracks lead poisoning levels two decades earlier.
"It is startling how much mileage has been given to the theory that abortion in the early 1970s was responsible for the decline in crime" in the 1990s, Nevin said. "But they legalized abortion in Britain and the violent crime in Britain soared in the 1990s. The difference is our gasoline lead levels peaked in the early '70s and started falling in the late '70s, and fell very sharply through the early 1980s and was virtually eliminated by 1986 or '87.
"In Britain and most of Europe, they did not have meaningful constraints (on leaded gasoline) until the mid-1980s and even early 1990s," he added. "This is the reason you are seeing the crime rate soar in Mexico and Latin America, but (it) has fallen in the United States."
Lead levels plummeted in New York in the early 1970s, driven by federal policies to eliminate lead from gasoline and local policies to reduce lead emissions from municipal incinerators. Between 1970 and 1974, the number of New York children heavily poisoned by lead fell by more than 80 percent, according to data from the New York City Department of Health.
Lead levels in New York have continued to fall. One analysis in the late 1990s found that children in New York had lower lead exposure than children in many other big U.S. cities, possibly because of a 1960 policy to replace old windows. That policy, meant to reduce deaths from falls, had an unforeseen benefit - old windows are a continuing source of lead poisoning, said Dave Jacobs of the National Center for Healthy Housing.
The effect was dramatic. In 1990, 31 New Yorkers out of every 100,000 were murdered. In 2004, the rate was 7 per 100,000 - lower than most big cities. The lead theory also explains why crime fell broadly across the United States in the 1990s, not just in New York.
The centerpiece of Nevin's research is a century-long analysis of crime rates and lead poisoning levels: The United States has had two spikes of lead poisoning, one at the turn of the 20th century, linked to lead in household paint, and after World War II, when the use of leaded gasoline increased sharply.
Both times, the violent crime rate went up and down in concert - with the violent crime peaks coming two decades after the lead poisoning peaks.
Other evidence has accumulated in recent years that lead is a neurotoxin that causes impulsivity and aggression, but these studies have also drawn little attention. In 2001, sociologist Paul Stretesky and criminologist Michael Lynch showed that U.S. counties with high lead levels had four times the murder rate of counties with low lead levels, after controlling for multiple socioeconomic factors.
In 2002, Herbert Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, compared lead levels of 194 adolescents arrested in Pittsburgh with lead levels of 146 high school adolescents: The arrested youths had lead levels that were four times higher.
"Impulsivity means you ignore the consequences of what you do," said Needleman, one of the country's foremost experts on lead poisoning, explaining why Nevin's theory is plausible. Lead decreases the ability to tell yourself, "If I do this, I will go to jail."
Nevin's work has been published mainly in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research.
Crime is going to be a big issue over the next several years.
“lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States.”
Apparently, lead poisoning must be on the increase then.
I thought it was because of Dinkins’ police initiatives...or was it Clinton’s COPS program? Certainly there’s NO chance the mayor of New York had anything to do with it....
I guess Camden NJ is now the Lead capital of the world!
Violent crime is down because of:
(1) Giuliani and other mayors implementing Jack Maple's CompStat program for tracking crimes and punishing QOL violations, and
(2) Putting more violent criminals behind bars for longer.
Bingo! I still remember reading newspaper story after newspaper story about how people were confounded that while crime is dropping, more people are in prison longer. They couldn't figure out the connection and that if you keep criminals in prison they don't commit crimes!
Proper application of lead delivered at high velocity can stop a crime.
Houston’s crime rate has gone up and up for nearly a decade.
Explain the science behind that without blaming our mayors and police/crime lab.
Also, the fall of the Berlin Wall was due to the fact that the East Germans had started using an inferior grade of Mortar back in the mid-1980’s.
I'd be quite happy if Rudy had challenged Hillary for the US Senate in either 2000 or 2006, New York would be much better off with him in that position, and the country would be better off if she had simply been defeated, and living back in Illinois after the divorce...
FWIW-not much. this is a most pathetic situation, when they have to reach this far....crime isn’t the fault of the criminal. it’s a result of an environmental factor, which could have been prevented if only everyone had the same income.
Not worth much. :)
I was young when Guiliani first came in, but even I remember the lib press screaming because he took the homeless off the benches and the squeegee men off the streets.
Just the fact the left hated him so much indicated to me he was doing good. I remember all the hospital workers protesting in the streets before the election, crying Doom! if Guiliani won.
The night he one I remember the anchor! very upset on TV saying, “You people are going to get what you deserve.” He couldn’t believe NYer’s voted for a Republican. He was black, so he probably thought all the minorites would be dragged out into the streets.
The way this study is applied here could be disproved rather simply by correlating the current crime rates in high crime cities and those with recent sustained increases with lead paint exposure.
Hey, I wonder if the New Orleans evacuees brought lead paint exposure with them to Houston?
But he wasn't the Batman like his groupies insinuate he was.
“Nevin does not say lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it’s the biggest.”
I quit reading there. Upbringing and role-modeling is the biggest, imo
"Lead... both the cause and solution to crime."
And sending in thousands of Katrina criminals isn't helping.
Respect for human life throughout every stage of development should be of paramount concern to all people. Especially Presidential candidates attempting to garner the nomination of America’s major pro-life party.
Giuliani isn’t qualified to be the GOP nominee, for a myriad of reasons.
They are! Problem is, it is traveling at high speed in a very directional manner.