Ed Driscoll

Bill de Blasio and New York’s Fragile New Normal

To set the scene, first up, at City Journal, NYU’s Paul Romer interviews William J. Bratton, former NYPD police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani:

BRATTON: Many New Yorkers are too young to understand what the city looked like when I got here in 1990—the graffiti, the decay, the crime, the social disorder. The police were not expected to do anything about these quality-of-life issues: aggressive begging, encampments in every park. When I came in as police commissioner, almost 300 people were living in the park across the street from the U.N. At the time, we didn’t focus on that, though. There was a perception that the police really couldn’t do anything about that kind of disorder. We thought we were focused on serious crime. What we really didn’t understand until the late eighties and early nineties was that the victim of all the abhorrent behavior on the streets was the city itself.

To give you an idea of how things have changed, in 1990, I didn’t go anywhere without a gun, because as the chief of the transit police, I did not feel secure anywhere, including in the subways. In Los Angeles, when I was chief of police there, I also had to carry a gun everywhere, because of the gang violence. I don’t carry a gun now. I haven’t for a while. It’s locked away. I just don’t feel the need for it. And I like it that I can do that.

ROMER: One of the misleading conclusions that outsiders seem to have reached is that police cannot deter a person from committing a crime, so that the only thing they can do is find people more likely to commit crimes and incapacitate them, lock them up, and throw away the key. I know that you reject this kind of naive, “get tough” approach to crime. One of the dramatic but rarely noticed successes of the turnaround in policing that you started in New York is that the incarceration rate has fallen. A smaller fraction of the population is locked away, yet far fewer crimes are being committed. This points clearly to the possibility, even the likelihood, that with the right policies, we can prevent crime. We can deter people from committing crimes.

Those same people who look at policing from the outside sometimes describe community policing as the misguided alternative to the “get tough” policies that they support. You have always believed that to prevent or deter crime, police must have a good working relationship with the community—that this is as important in preventing acts of terrorism as it is in preventing street crime.

BRATTON: Seventy-five percent of the terrorist plots that have been disrupted since 9/11 were detected when a community member informed a police officer or when a police officer who had a relationship with the community was able to put the clues together to predict that something was going to happen and take steps to prevent it. So, the collaboration that is so essential to successful policing really requires the community to be able to trust that what the police are doing is in fact not illegal, not based on racial profiling, or targeting the Muslim community. Proactive, assertive policing is effective, but if you don’t have the legitimacy, if you don’t have the trust of the community, you’re not going to get the information that you need to predict and prevent crimes.

Which brings us to this post from Monday at Commentary from Seth Mandel, on “Bill de Blasio and New York’s New Normal:”

Few doubt that New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has benefitted from the twenty years of Republican governance he decried to win the Democratic nomination. New Yorkers’ memories of the disastrous Dinkins administration may be fuzzy, but there are also many with no memories of that era at all. For many this is difficult to believe, but yes: it really was that long ago.

That may have helped de Blasio win the election. But the fact that Republicans are victims of their own success to some degree in New York should not be too comforting to de Blasio. He and his backers seem to be forgetting the flip side to this coin: New Yorkers have gotten comfortable living in a safe city, and their tolerance for crime has thus diminished. De Blasio has almost no margin of error because his political base has no idea what it’s like to live in a city that can’t control its crime.

I’m not sure if that’s true — De Blasio can dismantle many of Giuliani and Bloomberg’s crime-fighting initiatives by playing the class warfare game, and decrying them as racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, tilted against the poor and homeless, etc.  As Zev Chafets illustrated in his 1990 book Devil’s Night, Coleman Young, an earlier punitive leftist, did a thorough job simultaneously smashing Detroit and keeping himself in power by instilling a racist “us against them” mindset in the city’s remaining residents, and more recently, Barack Obama has kept his own poll numbers propped up using similar tactics.

As one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters famously quipped, he went bankrupt first gradually, then suddenly. As with Detroit’s bankruptcy earlier this year, the roof could well cave in on New York quite suddenly, but there are many techniques to delay its collapse while the rot is setting in.