Michael Powell, in the New York Times, observes that much of the reduction in crime should be credited to residents:
“Miracle” is an appropriate word for the fact that nearly 1,800 fewer New Yorkers might be murdered this year than in 1990. But with all due respect to perhaps the nation’s finest urban police force, we have become too reductive. Nearly every drop in crime is attributed to this or that police strategy.
This fails to reckon with a more intriguing sea change to be found in neighborhoods once marked by shootings and mayhem. Blocks surrendered to the rubble of abandonment have been rebuilt with city dollars; teenage girls are having fewer children and are far less likely to turn to welfare; drug overdose deaths and prison populations have dropped sharply, and life expectancy and homeownership in these neighborhoods has risen sharply.
This cultural shift might explain as much about the current drop in crime as any changes wrought by fine policing….
Mr. Sandiford and his fellow residents did not run. They formed block associations (many now fly handsome flags announcing their presence), and tenants fought for heat and hot water and front doors that locked. Police officers became their partners, marching with them step by step. But Mr. Sandiford, who arrived in New York in 1965 from Barbados, is not inclined to shortchange his fellow residents.
“I have the greatest respect for our police, but I know this for a fact: New Yorkers deserve the bulk of the credit,” he says. “These are our homes and our streets and we fought for them.”
Along the way, New Yorkers themselves changed significantly. Far fewer children tumble into the maw of foster care, as more than 50,000 did in 1991, compared with less than 13,000 today. In 1990, 11.6 infants per 1,000 live births died; in 2011, the number of such deaths had fallen to 4.7.
I agree that a cultural shift occurred in many cities. Cultural and sociological changes do matter–not everything can be solely reduced to a regression against the poverty rate. On the other hand, back in the 1980s, many of the very same people who subsequently stuck it out in these neighbhorhoods and who caused the cultural shift would themselves have been thought of as ‘the problem.’ That is, they themselves were deemed as members of a degenerate ‘urban’ (wink, wink) culture. But somehow these supposed degenerates managed to turn around some very difficult places.
But in the next round of ‘culture wars’ (probably something along the lines of the reaction to the Zimmerman trial), we probably will do the same damn thing again.