To the editor:
The recent local electoral cycle focused on the undeniable and alarming spike in violent crime in New York City.
Some candidates called for “more cops” and pressed for a further militarization of policing in our cities. Others talked about reducing the role of police by “defunding the police,” and shifting money to social services providers.
Too often, the media simplifies complex issues into left-right, pro- or anti-police, or even pro- or anti-public safety, which drives thoughtful people away from thinking about what should be done.
We are very concerned about this polarization, which thwarts an agreement by some that crime is an important issue again and prevents the support of progressive anti-crime measures by others. Far from experts, we have begun to discuss what do these ideas really mean, and how can we move beyond the rhetoric and work to create the safer, more inclusive and peaceful communities that we want to live in?
Our reading has turned up some examples of what can be done that we want to share with our Bronx neighbors.
Anti-violence groups with credible messengers in their communities have demonstrated impressive success on a small scale in many cities. For example, Oakland, California, achieved a dramatic reduction in violent crime by using such community violence interruption groups along with increasing policing transparency and cooperation with the community.
Countless studies have shown that the very actions that help to reduce the inequities between people also serve to reduce crime. Decent and affordable housing is primary. Funding programs to engage young people in purposeful and creative activities has been shown to reduce crime. Providing real help to substance abusers is another sure way of making all of us safer as well as improving their lives.
These are also some surprising and relatively simple interventions that have been shown to make a real difference. A five-year randomized controlled study showed that cleaning and greening abandoned lots led to a 40 percent reduction in violent crime. For comparison, mass incarceration led to only a 5 to 15 percent reduction over the 10 years between 1991 and 2001.
A New York City residency requirement among patrol officers would go a long way to improving community-police relations. We should think of ways to boost the number of city residents on the police force. Raising the age of police recruits from 18 to 25 as well as better police training, particularly about how to understand and interact with adolescents, would also be helpful.
Let’s work together to make sure that our new mayor and city councilman and other elected officials support initiatives that are based on fact and experience about how to reduce crime while increasing opportunity, equality and inclusion. We don’t need more divisive unfounded law-and-order rhetoric and programs.