October 28, 2001
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A front-page news article in today's New York Times claims that the terrorist attacks on America will result in an increase in crime. The Times claims that responding to reports of spilled powder and "bolstering security in public places" will make police departments "slower in responding to crimes" and will mean that police "may not be able to close as many cases." As a result, officials are concerned that "the crime rate could begin to rise again after a decade of decline."
The Times article goes on to report that new demands "may force already understaffed departments to consider jettisoning crime prevention tactics like community policing, which have been praised for contributing to the decade-long drop in crime but require considerable manpower."
The Times makes the claim that "There are no statistics yet on how the war on terror has affected local policing," and then goes on to quote officials at the FBI, and in the Philadelphia, Seattle and Los Angles police departments about how their work has been affected. Boston, Atlanta and Memphis are also mentioned.
There are so many flawed assumptions and reporting gaps in this article that it is hard to know where to start. Let's begin, though, with the idea that "bolstering security in public places" is somehow inconsistent with a decline in crime rates. It's absurd on its face. If there is a lesson of the decline in crime over the past decade, it is that the job of police is not to "respond to crimes" or to "close cases" but to reduce the number of crimes and therefore the number of cases that are ever opened. In other words, to bolster security in public places. Measuring police success by response time is a hallmark of an old, failed model in which police rode around in cars and the time they spent outside the car actually solving problems was considered a negative, because it was bad for the department's response time. Which would you rather live in -- a community with very little crime, or a community with a lot of crime but where the police are guaranteed to show up very quickly after a crime happens? Most people would probably prefer the community with very little crime.
The Times writes this article about how terrorism will affect policing by interviewing police in Los Angeles, Seattle and Philadelphia, but not by looking at what is going on in the city that has been hardest hit by terrorism -- the newspaper's supposed home town, New York. Had the Times included New York in the article, it would have found that the claim that "There are no statistics yet on how the war on terror has affected local policing" is false. In fact, the New York Police Department has been releasing, as usual, its weekly Compstat numbers that track crime in the city. The most recent citywide Compstat report, which runs through October 14, shows that crime complaints were down for the 28 days ending October 14, 2001, by 10.4% from the same period in the year 2000.
Now, there are a variety of possible explanations for this decline in crime. One is that even criminals were sufficiently shaken by the events of September 11 to take a momentary pause. Another is that the enhanced civic feeling in the wake of the attack has encouraged law-abiding citizens to do more than they would have before in terms of reporting suspicious behavior and intervening to prevent criminal behavior. Another is that the decline in tourism meant there were fewer targets for criminals. But one particularly intriguing possibility not mentioned in the Times article is that the redeployment of the New York Police Department in the wake of the September 11 attack has contributed to the decline in crime reports. It has been widely reported that, following the September 11 attack, the NYPD reassigned many undercover police officers and detectives who had been serving in special units. Their new assignment was uniformed foot patrol -- a cornerstone of the "community policing" strategy. The Times claims that cities are considering jettisoning community policing in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but in fact what is happening in New York may be the opposite -- a move toward community policing. And it may be working to reduce crime.
All of this is highly speculative at this point. Still, so are the claims the Times passes along from Seattle, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It's weird that a front-page Times roundup on the effects of terrorism on policing would so glaringly omit what is going on in New York City.
Can't Count: A news article in today's New York Times reports on America's Muslim population, which the Times says is "estimated variously at two million to six million." Strange that the Times today would use 2 million as the low estimate, when just as recently as October 25 the Times reported, "In an interview, Egon Mayer, a sociologist at the [CUNY] Graduate Center and Brooklyn College who directed the study with the sociologist Barry Kosmin, estimated the total American Muslim population, based on the findings, at 1.8 million adults and children."
Can't Count: The lead article in the Arts & Leisure section of today's New York Times, by the newspaper's architecture critic, refers to the site of the World Trade Center by saying, "This is where 6,000 people lost their lives." In fact, the Times reports elsewhere in today's newspaper that the estimated toll at the World Trade Center is now 4,464 dead or missing, plus 157 dead on the two hijacked planes, including 10 hijackers.
The same Arts & Leisure article carries a frothing attack on "corporate architects," asserting that corporate architecture as currently practiced is inconsistent with imagination, and, bizarrely, that "In corporate culture, no one ever dies." One of the firms the Times critic turns up his nose at as "inferior" corporate architects whose interests are at odds with the public's is Fox & Fowle, which has been hired by the New York Times company to work on the newspaper's new headquarters tower on 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets.
Can't Count: One article in the metro section of today's New York Times reports that Mayor Giuliani arrived "an hour late" for a news conference to endorse Michael Bloomberg. Another article in the same section reports that he arrived "75 minutes late."
Poverty: The business section of today's New York Times runs an interview with an author. The Times asks, "Were the terrorists motivated by more than anti-American ideology?" The author answers, "Perhaps we should not have been surprised that the success of capitalism should have also created violent hostility among those who've been left out -- people with no power in the world of international diplomacy. They feel that the squalor and poverty of their lives is something being done to them by those who do have the power." It's silly for the Times to devote space to passing along unchallenged the claim that "poverty" was a cause of the September 11 attacks on America. The terrorists themselves were mainly from middle-class backgrounds. Osama Bin Laden has a fortune estimated in the tens of millions of dollars, and another terrorist mastermind who may have had a hand in the attacks, Saddam Hussein, has a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine to be in the billions of dollars.
New In Letters: The Letters about the Times section was updated Friday with comments about fish, dolphins and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Letters about Smartertimes section was updated Friday with comments about the Global Positioning System, Orthodox Jewish burial practices, and press criticism in wartime.
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