Second Opinion -- Honolulu Advertiser 5/13/97
How New York cut crime in half

By Cliff Slater

Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman and represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii.

Between 1990 and 1996, New York City halved the number of shooting victims, auto thefts, robberies and homicides. [1] Police Chief Bratton's Churchillian exhortation to his police conveyed his attitude, "We will fight for every house, we will fight for every block, we will fight for every neighborhood, and we will win!" [2] Bratton credits the reduction to a total rethinking of crime fighting that is more like the policing of the 1940's than the 1980's.

First, there is the "broken windows" approach. [3] The first broken window in an abandoned building encourages more people to break windows. The first graffiti on a wall encourages other graffiti painters. Pursuing small crimes early on deters people from committing the serious crimes later. He believes that serious street crime flourishes in areas in which disorderly behavior goes unchecked. The unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window. Bratton warned that, "no issue would be too small for us to focus on." [4] New York's police now prosecute subway fare evaders, litterers, people riding bicycles down the sidewalk, graffiti artists, drivers of loud automobiles and others who were formerly untouched for such misdemeanors.

Second, he says that police can return to the role for which they were invented: preventing crime. Policing over the years had evolved into one where police were congratulated on their arrest records rather than on reductions in crime in their areas. Now police determine from residents the quality-of-life that concern them most—such as noise, disorderly neighbors or drinking in the streets—and attack those equally with serious crime.

Third, is the Civil Enforcement Initiative [5] where an attorney is assigned to each precinct to help devise innovative crime fighting methods. For example, residents complained of teenagers' loud car radios but police did not enforce noise ordinances because the courts would not impose penalties. Thus, the deterrent of Operation Soundtrap was born. Police now charge violators and temporarily confiscate their automobiles as evidence until the court hearing.

Fourth, is CompStat—computerized comparison statistics and mapping—New York's sophisticated crime management tool that allows the tracking of crimes as they occur and the subsequent timely management of them. [6]

Fifth, was a management overhaul with massive delegation of responsibility down to the district commander level. At weekly city-wide meetings police commanders of each district review the crime data, compare changes in each district and discuss ways to cut crime in specific places. Having each police unit's performance compared on a weekly basis results in a competitive atmosphere and a desire to reduce crime rather than increase arrests. Bratton's watchwords are timely intelligence, rapid response, and effective tactics capped with relentless follow-up. [7]

While the New York program has its detractors, it is tough to argue with a halving of violent crime. For the last two years law enforcement officials from all over the world have been traveling to New York to learn how it is done. With Honolulu's crime rate steadily on the rise [8] it is heartening to hear that some of our police officials may finally be going as well. Perhaps Honolulu's finest can learn something from New York's finest.

Cliff Slater, a local businessman, represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii. A footnoted version is at

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[1] Bratton, William J. Cutting Crime and Restoring Order: What America Can Learn From New York's Finest. Heritage Foundation Lecture #573. [back]
Also New York City Press Release #691-96 on latest FBI statistics.
Also New York City Press Release #006-97.

[2] Diamond, Joe. Former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton. OnPatrol, Vol. 1, Issue 3. Fall 1996. [back]

[3] Wilson, James Q. and George L. Kelling. Broken Windows. Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 249, No. 3. March 1982. pp. 29-38. [back]

[4] Bratton, William J. Cutting Crime and Restoring Order: What America Can Learn From New York's Finest. Heritage Foundation Lecture #573 [back]

[5] The Civil Enforcement Initiative. New York City Police Department. [back]

[6] Compstat: A Crime Reduction Management Tool. New York City Police Department. [back]

[7] Bratton, William J. Cutting Crime and Restoring Order: What America Can Learn From New York's Finest. Heritage Foundation Lecture #573. [back]

[8] Honolulu Police Department Crime Statistics: Index Crimes. [back]


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