Friday, September 28, 2012

Mikey Mike, poor little rich mayor

Mayor Bloomberg is getting a little snitty about this and that as his endless reign draws to a close. Man needs a hobby, and, frankly, I don't think tooling around Bermuda in a golf cart or whatever he does there is strenuous enough.

Asked about the NAACP's complaint against the city's Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, he dismissed it with a "Life isn't always fair," and, as the Daily News reported,
“It’s done strictly on merit and it’s one of the bright lights in our school system,” he said. “If you started to get rid of those schools, I think you’d really be destroying something that’s great.”
Bloomberg balked at a suggestion that some families have an advantage because they can afford special tutoring for the test.
“I don’t know how you would take away the right to get tutoring or how the public could pay tutoring,” he said. “We have tutoring for all our kids. It’s called the public school system. We do it five hours a day, roughly five days a week.”
Ah, right, except when it's his tests, eh? That's another kettle of potato chips:
Because tougher state exams meant fewer city students were found proficient in math and English, Mayor Bloomberg has pledged $10 million to state test tutoring.... The money will be distributed to 532 schools where over two-thirds of students failed the tests last year, with schools getting between $6,000 and $65,000.

And on the question of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson's plan to put some limits on prosecuting people for trespassing in public housing or certain private buildings, according to WNYC,
“If you want to bring crime back to New York, this is probably a good way to do it,” the mayor said Thursday at a press conference in Staten Island.
Well, not so fast. As David Cole writes in the current New York Review,  New York has indeed had a very remarkable drop in crime, going back to when David Dinkins was mayor in 1990,  but nobody knows quite why:
Was it New York’s increase in the numbers of police, started by Mayor David Dinkins, and supported by President Bill Clinton’s initiative to make federal funds available to put more police on the streets? Was it the introduction of Compstat, an accountability system that allowed much closer tracking of crime, particular offenders, and police performance on a precinct-by-precinct basis? Was it the focused targeting of “hot spots” and drug markets, or the emphasis on enforcing gun laws?
Quanell Carwell, Mott Haven Houses, accused of trespassing in her own common corridor.  New York Times, 9/26/2012.
Was it, as the police claim, the city’s aggressive use of “stop-and-frisk” policies, involving hundreds of thousands of searches of young black and Hispanic men? Or was it the “broken windows” policy, in which police broadly enforce minor quality-of-life infractions such as vandalism, public drinking, or prostitution in the hope that by restoring a sense of “order,” more serious crime will also drop?
Apparently the correct answer is "none of the above". They've either been tried elsewhere to little effect,  or not actually tried at all (the Broken Windows policy seems to have existed only in mayors' and commissioners' imaginations), or in some other way fail to explain the very real phenomenon.

As a matter of fact there was something that Cole mentioned that struck me much more than it struck him:
What’s more, New York achieved these outcomes without significant changes in demographic, economic, or social factors often thought to determine crime rates. Between 1990 and 2005, for example, rates of drug use in New York were constant, but drug-related homicides dropped by 95 percent. New York’s black and Hispanic youth population increased over the period, which many criminologists would predict would lead to increased crime, yet crime fell dramatically. And most significantly, New York City reduced crime while also reducing incarceration rates. Between 1990 and 2008, the nation’s incarceration rate grew by 65 percent, but New York City’s incarceration rate fell by 28 percent. By 2008, there were ten thousand fewer New York City residents in prison than in 1990.
It's those last sentences that made me sit up and take notice: to Cole, this is another happy effect of the same mysterious cause, but why shouldn't it be a cause in its own right?

For one thing, who is it that isn't getting jailed? It's not ten thousand people who decided not to murder anybody, because there weren't anywhere near that many murderers in the first place. Given the statement on drug use, it's an easy bet that they are mainly the perpetrators of those "quality of life" crimes that the Broken Windows policy would have addressed if it had ever been implemented: dope smokers, panhandlers, prostitutes, and those youths aimlessly hanging around the projects ("Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering?").

That is, mostly male, mostly young, mostly residents of high-poverty districts, and if you need somebody to fill out the "race" blank here, then you're not advanced enough to be reading this (but far from all of them would be African American). They weren't going to jail because they weren't getting busted, and if there's any policy reason for that, it would be the community policing style implemented by Dinkins and commissioner Ray Kelly in his first incarnation (rehired by Bloomberg years later, he has become kind of snitty and arrest-happy himself), and never quite given up in all the waves of policing fashion since then.
Rookie cops, South Bronx. Photo by Antonio Bolfo at Criminal Wisdom.
And then guess what? Then ten thousand boys were available when their girlfriends had their babies, to be called on and nagged into helping out. Ten thousand boys thought about programs for getting your GED because they had nothing better to do. Ten thousand boys looked for jobs, and some of them got one. Ten thousand men did what the mayors and Bill Cosby and above all their mothers are always scolding them to do, because they weren't in jail.

And then guess what else? As a lovely online paper by Randall Shelden explains, ten thousand men had civil rights that ex-convicts may be deprived of: the right to vote, the right to claim parenthood, the right to live in public housing. They were citizens.

There've been plenty of studies showing that raising the incarceration rate doesn't lower the crime rate, most notably in Texas. I don't know that anyone has ever directly asked about the consequences of lowering the incarceration rate (Dr. Google doesn't seem to think so, but of course that could be my fault), perhaps because it's not something governments usually do on purpose. I guess there will be some data coming out of California's prisoner release if the state actually carries it out. In the meantime somebody could try looking at places that emerged from more authoritarian to less authoritarian forms of government in the late 20th century: Spain and Portugal and Greece; South Korea and Taiwan; all those countries in South America; Indonesia and the Philippines.

If I'm right,  DA Johnson's move in the Bronx, in the spirit of Mayor Dinkins and Young Commissioner Kelly, should reduce crime rates further still (more needed in the Bronx than anywhere else). Bloomberg and Old Commissioner Kelly aren't really fighting crime any more, they're just fighting criminals.

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