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.
Lead poisoning reduces crime when combined with the correct amount of cordite.
“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.”
Correct. This long-winded article detracts from the truth of what was happening on the streets: giving the police authority to deal with lawbreakers, and re-programming people to comply with the tenets of law and order.
If you look at the real crime statistics, you’ll notice that the crime rate started to decline well before Giuliani became mayor.
He targeted sex shops, especially along 42nd street. He also targeted squeegee windshield washers. I believe both actions contributed to the decrease in NYC crime by improving the quality of life.
You'd be wrong, then. The trend toward reduced crime started well before he became mayor.
What did he do about 9/11 that makes him deserve any credit? What did he do? Everyone loves him for what he did on 9/11, but they can’t say what it is he actually did.
Perhaps. But for him to put the theory into practice he had to take on the entrenched liberal and minority interests in the heart of the beast and defeat them.
That takes very big brass ones, whatever else you can say about the man.
Rudy implemented zero tolerance on quality of life crime and most importantly ordered the NYPD to hold everyone to be ticketed for a minor offense long enough for there to be a warrant check and a parole status check. This sent thousands of criminals back behind bars. iow...he nailed them on the little stuff thereby prohibiting them from doing the big stuff.
Actually, I think the trend towards increased personal responsibility among minorities in NYC took a giant leap in ‘95 after the Million Man March. There was a change in attitude in many ways after that in a lot of people I saw.
But Giuliani knew what had to be done before that, and stuck to his plan in spite of the local liberal media crying and moaning about it.
“lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States.
Plausible marker, really.
As only unattended kids chew on lead paint, and unattended kids are more likely to grow up to be thugs than kids of parents who care about their kids and their stuff.
But lead causing the behavior? Doubt it.
Humidity rots the brain.
Well putting the C&C for terrorist attack in the WTC after the WTC was attacked the first time was brilliant.
Giuliani also tried to extend his term beyond what it was supposed to be following the 9/11 attacks. Someone should hit him on that.
“....Everyone loves him for what he did on 9/11....”
Count me out.....the way I see it, he was worthless except for the walk-on to Saturday Night Live to bless SNL with the right to be “funny” again, and refusing the Saudi money......beyond that, the WTC/911 matter would have evolved as it did quite well without him....and in some ways it might have been better had he not been entrenched prior to it, IMO.
Giuliani also tried to extend his term beyond what it was supposed to be following the 9/11 attacks.”
It was strongly considered iirc, but I think he abandoned that idea prior to taking the rule to task.
“WTC/911 matter would have evolved as it did quite well without him....and in some ways it might have been better had he not been entrenched prior to it, IMO.”
Entrenched? LOL. He was a lame duck mayor ready to ride off into the sunset with his younger gf. It was only after 9/11 that anyone even thought of him sticking around for another term.
In Freep’s zeal to denigrate him since he isnt the potus candidate of choice here, I think some are viewing his history through a biased prism.
his “preparations” for it - esp since his term of office began in the wake of the FIRST WTC bombing - were pathetic - from the git, thru his entire term, and ESP beginning on tuesday morning of 911 just before 9am.
You know it, and so does every other rudybot.......and everyone else, too.
Yeah,and I remember how the MSM wailed how the Police
were arresting those that jumped over the turnstiles
in the subway.
Found that people who did that quite often had outstanding
warrants.Suprise Suprise.Criminals don`t just do big
crimes,often do smaller ones.
Still don`t want him for President
I experienced it all too. They’re stooping really low to try take that away from him.
Did reducing lead content help lower crime rates. Sure. But it helped lower crime rates in the Bloomberg, Dinkins and Koch administrations as much as it during the Giuliani administration. So comparing crime rates in the Giuliani administration to crime rates in the Dinkins adminsitration is still comparing apples to apples.