It’s been dubbed the New York Miracle. Bill Bratton, who returned to his former job as the city’s police commissioner in January, says he wants Los Angeles, Chicago and London to experience it too.
He’s talking about a 23-year span in which major crime fell almost 80 percent, creating an aura of safety that was key to revitalizing the five boroughs. The revolution he kicked off, carried on by successors including Raymond Kelly, helped boost housing prices from Harlem to Brooklyn and attract a record 54 million tourists who pumped $58.7 billion into the local economy last year.
New York has led a national decline in crime that goes beyond just police tactics, with the most populous U.S. city posting the steepest drop of any major metropolitan area. Sharing the methods of that success highlights how cities are increasingly collaborating on both local matters such as law enforcement and global challenges such as climate change.
“He’s uniquely experienced to begin this collaboration with cities around the U.S. and the world,” said Michael Jacobson, former director of the Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy-research group, who was former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s corrections commissioner.
While Bratton retakes command with a reputation that Mayor Bill de Blasio called “nothing short of a legend,” he faces different challenges than he did 20 years ago. Then, most police commanders viewed crime as an intractable feature of urban life.
To counter that mindset, Bratton and his colleagues used a Hewlett Packard 360 personal computer purchased from Wal-Mart to remake police work. They created CompStat, a database to map, categorize and time-stamp crimes and manage dangerous neighborhoods. It was so successful that Bratton, whose first stint at the New York Police Department was from 1994 to 1996, wound up on the cover of Time magazine and as the subject of management studies at Harvard and Yale universities.
“If you take care of the little things, you can prevent a lot of the big things,” Bratton is fond of saying about the so-called Broken Windows approach to law enforcement. As the city’s transit-police chief before taking over the NYPD, he implemented zero-tolerance policies on turnstile jumping and graffiti.
All that has translated into economic gains.
In Bushwick, a Brooklyn neighborhood that was once one of the city’s poorest and most dangerous, the median home price has risen to about $340,000 from less than $85,000 in 2000, according to the real-estate website Trulia.com. In Harlem, the median sales price of all homes sold rose to $590,000 in 2013 from about $71,000 in 1995, according to Miller Samuel Inc., a New York based real-estate appraiser.
A reduction of one homicide a year in a zip code correlates to a 1.5 percent increase in housing values the following year, according to a 2012 study by economists Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett published by the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan policy-research group. Their paper looked at eight U.S. cities -- Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Seattle -- over a period of six to 11 years.
“When the murder rate goes down, property values go up,” Shapiro said in an interview. “We can see significant increases in property values with respect to murder rates everywhere we can find the data to match the two.”
The nationwide decline in violence is illustrated by statistics showing that in 2012, U.S. cities with more than 1 million residents had an average homicide rate of 8.8 per 100,000, down from 27.7 in 1993, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. New York’s rate fell the most precipitously, to 5.1 per 100,000 from 26.5.
“Perhaps the most optimistic lesson to take from New York’s experience is that high rates of homicides and muggings are not hardwired into a city’s population, cultures and institutions,” wrote Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 2011 Scientific American article. “The steady, significant and cumulatively overwhelming crime decline in New York is proof that cities as we know them need not be incubators of robbery, rape and mayhem.”
After leaving New York in 1996 following a falling-out with Giuliani, Bratton, 66, worked as a security consultant before being named chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. During his tenure there from 2002 to 2009, the city’s homicide rate fell to 7.8 per 100,000 residents from 17.1.
After that, the Boston native was chairman of Kroll, a New York-based risk-consulting firm, until 2012.
As chief in Los Angeles, Bratton’s collaborations with London’s Metropolitan Police brought him to the attention of Queen Elizabeth II, who in 2009 named him a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. By 2011, he advised U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron following London riots that year. He became a candidate to run Scotland Yard, an idea rejected due to objections to a non-Briton filling the post, the Daily Telegraph reported at the time.
With fewer than two homicides per 100,000 in 2009, according to the United Nations, London is a far safer place than most big U.S. cities. The trend has continued downward since then, Scotland Yard statistics show.
Bratton now intends to work with officials in Los Angeles, London and other cities to promote exchanges on innovative methods, said Stephen Davis, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information.
Los Angeles, for example, could offer New York what it’s learned after years dealing with street gangs, and from its routine use of video cameras in patrol cars and on officer uniforms, Davis said.
‘Ring of Steel’
London’s “ring of steel” securing the financial district may give New York anti-terrorism specialists ideas about protecting Wall Street, Davis said. And both cities might benefit from sharing approaches on the questioning of ethnic minorities in high-crime neighborhoods, he said.
The 34,000-officer, $4.7 billion-a-year NYPD can demonstrate an $11 million “Real-Time Crime Center” at its Manhattan headquarters, one of several innovations pushed by Kelly, who served 12 years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The center features high-definition monitors that can capture images from hundreds of street-based webcams, and computer terminals that can instantly access billions of public records and criminal files. Patrol officers will soon have that information at their fingertips through handheld devices and tablets in squad cars, Bratton said.
“We will join hands, share technology, training, intelligence, bringing people here and sending people there,” Bratton said March 4 as he met with the Police Foundation, a group of New York executives who since 1971 have provided financial support to the NYPD.
In his second run as commissioner, Bratton must continue to reduce crime while refining police practices that de Blasio and others criticized as overly aggressive. The city’s stop-and-frisk tactics, which mostly focused on hundreds of thousands of young black and Hispanic men in high-crime neighborhoods, led to outside supervision by a monitor ordered by a federal judge.
Los Angeles Lessons
The effort to deter young people from carrying guns “came at a huge political cost and it alienated whole communities that resented it and made them less likely to report crime,” said Jacobson, who’s now a sociology professor and director of the Institute for State and Local Governance at City University in Manhattan.
Bratton’s years in Los Angeles required him to repair similar problems in black and Latino communities, including oversight by court-created monitors. That will prove helpful in New York, said Albert Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon University criminologist appointed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to head a social-science advisory board for the Justice Department.
“His commanders in New York can learn first-hand from their counterparts in Los Angeles how to go about building trust, what snags to expect and how to overcome them,” he said.