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The mass media pay plenty of attention to crime and violence in the United States, but very few of the big stories on the American crime beat can be classified as good news. The driveby shootings and carjackings that illuminate nightly news broadcasts are the opposite of good tidings. Most efforts at prevention and law enforcement seem more like reactive attempts to contain ever expanding problems rather than discernable public triumphs. In recent American history, crime rates seem to increase on the front page and moderate in obscurity.

The recent decline in homicides in New York City is an exception to the usual pattern, the most celebrated example of crime-news-as-good-news in decades. No doubt part of the public attention can be explained because the story took place in the media capital of the United States. But more than location made the New York story newsworthy. The drop in homicides was both large and abrupt – the homicide rate in the nation's largest city fell 52% in five years. Further, changes in police manpower and strategy are widely believed to have contributed to the decline. If this drop can be. plausibly tied to enforcement activities, it would be the most conspicuous success of city police deployment policies in the twentieth century.

This article reports our attempt to assess the extent and causes of the five-year decline in life threatening violence in New York City. Part I puts the homicide decline in a variety of statistical contexts, comparing the drop to previous New York experience and to the experiences of other cities in the United States. Part II examines changes in patterns of homicide during the decline in search of clues about causes. Part III examines available data on crime trends and trends in crime-related phenomena over the years when homicide increased and declined. Did many crime categories fall, and by how much? Was the decline concentrated in a few categories or spread evenly across the spectrum of felony crime? What were contemporaneous trends in drug use, demography, and incarceration? Part IV reviews some explanations of the decline.


Criminal Law | Criminology | Law