Readers of SafeGrowth know certain high crime properties are incubators for gangs and violence. That isn't destiny, it's reality. If SafeGrowth (and approaches like it) prove anything, it proves residents are not doomed to a life of mayhem. Environment can be changed and streets transformed.
It also proves we can do it with coherent planning, mobilized neighborhoods and intelligent anticrime strategies like hotspot policing.
Case in point: crime declines in New York.
I recently read Frank Zimring in the New York Times: "The 40% drop in crime that occurred across the U.S. from 1991 to 2000 largely remains an unsolved mystery. Even more puzzling then is the crime rate drop in New York City, which lasted twice long and was twice as large. This 80% drop in crime over nineteen years represents the largest crime decline on record."
I'm not big on mysteries that aren't. It's like watching a Hollywood flick and expecting some magical, non-formulaic finale. Not going to happen!
That 40% drop nation-wide followed a decades-long demographic metamorphosis that swept North America more than anywhere else since WW2. Since the 1990s crime-prone cohorts aged out of crime in record numbers. Those crime declines continue today.
Then New York built on that perfect demographic storm as NYPD added crime suppression tactics like proactive street stops and controversial (but clearly effective) quality-of-life enforcement.
Intensive street stops increased the risk of getting caught with an illegal gun. That led to a 39% drop in gun toting criminals from 1993-1995. Is it really a mystery that kind of informal gun control cut violence?
It's what Greg Bergman calls A Thousand Small Sanities (another excellent read).
During the peak crime declines fewer arrestees went to prison. Why? Bergman describes the vast network of incarceration alternatives evolved in New York - drug courts, mental health courts and community courts providing meaningful community alternatives like drug treatment and restorative justice.
Says Bergman "there needs to be a continuum of non-incarcerative interventions for offenders with the most intensive options reserved for populations that are both high risk and high-need."
Hotspot policing, neighborhood justice courts, and targeted suppression. Anchor that with permanent SafeGrowth planning and neighborhood capacity building and voila - a finale that makes sense.