August 21, 2003


The latest Continuing Crisis column in The Bulletin mentions Rudolph Giuliani, John Howard, Ross Fitzgerald, Paul Kennedy, Andrew Johns, Shane Warne, Mark Colvin, Mike Moore, Peter Garrett, Brendalee Doel, Alison Broinowski, and Jake Ryan.

Also in the latest Bulletin: a piece by me on blogging, featuring Stephen Green, Joanne Jacobs, John Quiggin, Atrios, Colby Cosh, Glenn Reynolds, and Jeff Jarvis. Itís a brief and necessarily generalist article for the non-blog aware. Maybe later Iíll post some longer extracts from interviews with the above bloggers.

Posted by Tim Blair at August 21, 2003 12:46 PM

Nice article Tim.....!

Posted by: wallace at August 21, 2003 at 02:25 PM

It was so refreshing to hear New Zealander Mike Moore going onto the front foot in reacting angrily, but succinctly and effectively, to Mark Colvin's boringly predictable 'But, this...' and 'But that ...' interjections.

It's a shame more interviewees don't take a stick to Colvin and cohorts' stock ABC 'interviewing' technique.

Posted by: ilibcc at August 21, 2003 at 02:28 PM

Steve Levitt (John Bates Clark medal-winning economist) puts the drop in NYC crime down to four factors:

* more police

* higher prison population

* the crack epidemic receding

* impact of higher abortion rates in the 20 or so years following Roe v Wade.

He says that the policing policies referred to in Tim's column had virtually no impact.

Also, I'm inclined to the view that 9/11 had more to do with the response to the blackout in NYC than any other factor.

The comparison with Detroit bears out both points: it had a similar decline in crime rate through the late 1990s (this was not a NYC-only phenomenon) without the zero-tolerance policing, and yet was not as stable and secure through the blackout.

Posted by: Mork at August 21, 2003 at 05:26 PM

Actually one of the coner stones of Zero Tolerance was higher police numbers - NYPD increased from circa 30000 to 40000.

Increased prison populations? Thats what happened as a result of zero tolerance. The Broken Windows Theory on which Zero Tolerance is based indicates that by enforcement of less serious crime it has a flow on effect to more serious crime. Higher enforcement is going to lead to higher imprisonment rates. If all the little criminals are in prison, if even for minor offences they are a lot less likely to pinch your wallet or DVD player.

Crack epidemic receeding - at least partially as a result of enforcement. The Fed and State authorities in Australia have seriously disrupted the supply of heroin. OD's have dropped right off and junkies have moved onto other drugs, or the graveyard. Junkies have a very short halflife anyway.

Crime and its causes are a muti headed hydra anyway. To say that Zero Tolerance has influenced the behaviour of New York is probably half right, but to say that it has not is probably wrong.

Mork, I'm dubious about any government taking total credit for a reduction in crime as a result of their policies, but of the four factors you listed that led to a decrese in crime in NYC three of them came about through Zero Tolerance.

I have my own theory for government crime policy, I call it the 'red sock on Tuesday' theory. If you will indulge me it goes like this. By government decree all Police are to wear red socks on a Tuesday. After a year statistics will reveal one of two things. Crime will go up, or crime will go down. If it goes down the government will make the wearing of red socks comulsory on all days of the week, and if it goes up, red socks will be banned from use.

I've been a cop for nearly ten years and I can assure you most government policy has as much impact on crime as the colour of the socks I wear - and yet, the entirely coincidental rises or falls in crime rates are always heralded as a result of brilliant policy.

Zero Tolerance Policing is the only one I have seen that has bought in massive falls, and they were massive. For that reason alone it is worthy of closer inspection.

Posted by: Gilly at August 21, 2003 at 05:58 PM

Gilly - you make good points. Obviously, there's an overlap between some of the factors that Levitt mentions and the package of measures that make up "zero tolerance". I think his argument is that the change in police methods . . . going after people for trivial offenses . . . the "broken windows" theory, as you put it . . . is not really a cause of reduction in crime when you treat it separately from the straightforward effects of having more cops on the streets, and the other factors.

On the prison population, I suspect that a stronger factor in the increase than prosecutions for minor offenses (which would only get short custodial sentences, if any) is the longer sentences and reduced opportunities for parole for more serious crimes . . . i.e. crimes that would have been prosecuted anyway, zero tolerance or no, but that now attract stiffer sentences than they used to.

On crack - Levitt sees it more like a medical epedemic: some are not susceptible, and those that are either recover or die . . . but no-one continues indefinitely as a crack addict. Hence it follows the pattern of peak and then decline. In the communities he's talking about, it seems to me that in terms of prevalence and impact, that's a better analogy than the heroin problem in Australia. And I think it's been pretty clearly demonstrated that police in the U.S. were pretty ineffective against crack supply.

Of course, the Roe v Wade connection is the most controversial: he argues that widepread abortion has meant reduced births in the socio-economic categories most likely to produce criminals, to a sufficient degree to have resulted in a material decrease in crime. It's an argument that offends both sides of politics equally, but there you go!

Posted by: Mork at August 21, 2003 at 07:12 PM

I would be interested to read the article if you could provide a link. I find a lot of academic writings on basic policing to be founded on some very unusual, if not incorrect assumptions.

Most police work is not rocket science. The links that get drawn by politicians and police heirarchy often based on the findings of academics, combined with bazaar utilisation of statistics can only be described as specious.

Posted by: Gilly at August 21, 2003 at 11:21 PM