Friday, October 18, 2013

JOE LHOTA | Why Is NYC Deaf to Tough-on-Crime Tune?

Giuliani Endorses Lhota
Rudy Giuliani in 1993 and 1997 campaigned brilliantly on the issue of public safety, picking up on a theme that Richard Nixon hammered at, mashing up student protests with a rise in crime to argue that lawlessness was undermining New York City.

I was the Chief Economist for the New York City Comptroller's Office for the entire eight years of Giuliani's mayoralty. I remember leaning forward with anticipation when a reporter struggled to get Giuliani to move on from"law 'n order" to his economic-development strategy.

Rudy replied something like this: "As long as corporations are moving out of New York City because of crime, as long as property values are threatened by crime in the streets, my economic-development strategy is to reduce crime." So there.

This tough-on-crime electoral strategy worked from the 1960s through the 1990s. It worked for Nixon, for Ronald Reagan, for George H. W. Bush, and for hundreds of candidates in state and local elections. Even a supposedly liberal Republican like Nelson Rockefeller signed onto a draconian drug law.

The conservative mantra was:
  • Liberal police chiefs would not let the cops do their jobs.
  • Liberal judges would let criminals back onto the street.
  • Liberal parole boards would grant parole too easily.  
Joe Lhota saw how this worked for Giuliani. He is piping the same tune. But this time, no one is dancing, or joining in, or even listening. De Blasio continues to ride high in the polls despite Lhota's soft-on-crime ads.

Why isn't the music working any more? Lhota has a new attack ad suggesting that de Blasio would bring New York City back to the high-crime days of the 1960s and 1970s. De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan said:
Lhota is right that we can’t go back. We shouldn’t return to the days when Republicans like Giuliani used fear tactics to divide New Yorkers against each other.
Well, here are pieces of a counter-mantra that might explain New York City's deafness to the issue:
  • Crime is down in New York City and everywhere in the United States. There are lots of explanations. Here's one I like: The civil rights movement of the 1960s has calmed down groups in the cities that were hostile to the police.Having a black president surely helps establish that the country offers opportunities for black citizens.
  • Police work has gotten better in NYC and all over the country. Cops are being managed more efficiently. Crimes are tracked minute by minute and are analyzed. Task forces are sent to hot spots. 
  • Tough on crime means more people in prison, which is costly.  Three percent of the American population is behind bars or on parole and probation – U.S. prisons hold 20 percent of all the people incarcerated in the world. Conservatives and libertarians are increasingly about the cost of this. Legislators are showing rare unanimity on this topic. In 1994, Newt Gingrich's Contract with America promised to put more people in prison. But now he is concerned about the huge costs of the large prison population, "in dollars and lost human potential".  
  • Some rehabilitation programs work. There are some successful programs to prepare ex-offenders for return to the workforce. The 2012 Republican platform called for prisons to "attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization."