‘CRACK’DOWN ON CRIME
‘CRACK’DOWN ON CRIME By WILLIAM SHERMAN
May 24, 1998 New York City’s plummeting murder rate – which this year could fall below 600, a figure not seen for nearly 40 years – has more to do with crack than cops, criminologists told The Post.
They contend that the evaporating demand for crack – a highly addictive, smokable form of cocaine – has played a key role in the drop in crime in the city.
“It’s just not popular – people realized the effects of the epidemic. Some call it the “younger brother’ syndrome,” explained Andrew Karmen, a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“A kid would see what happened to his older brother on crack or as a gang member – maybe dead or in jail – and the kid wouldn’t get involved,” he said.
A few years ago, the Yellow Top Crew ruled Manhattan’s 107th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem with crack, cash and bullets.
You couldn’t walk along the block or down to the 90s without bumping into runners, dealers and lookouts all busy on beepers and cell phones and hissing “smoke, smoke” to passers-by.
But last week, in the same Manhattan Valley neighborhood once ruled by the Yellow Top Crew, parents and children shopped and played without fear. No more gunfire between rival gangs.
Crack dealing and much of the attendant crime – including murder, robbery, burglary and auto theft – are all down.
Murders, which hovered at or above 2,000 a year until 1994, could drop to below 600 this year if the current rate continues.
The phenomenal drop parallels the decline in drug wars and drug usage. Young prisoners testing positive for cocaine in 1996 dropped to 21 percent from 70 percent in 1987.
New York’s top cop disagrees with those who attribute the drop in crime to a decreased demand for crack.
“The decline in crime is due to driving the customers off the blocks, arresting the dealers and putting them in jail – and that’s what we’re doing with the community,” Police Commissioner Howard Safir told The Post.
“We’re not seeing a decline in appetite. We’ve driven the drug traffic inside,” the city’s top cop said. “We have taken back our public spaces.”
City drug gangs including the Champion Crew, Dead Men Walking, La Compania, the Wild Cowboys and a score of others are now disbanded, with hundreds of their members in jail.
Gone from the South Bronx are the Simon and Simon Gang, the American Express Gang and Conga’s Gang, groups that were selling $100,000 worth of drugs every day, according to the NYPD.
“We are targeting and identifying every drug gang in New York City and targeting them for elimination,” Safir said. “We’re making the environment so inhospitable they’re going elsewhere. We’re driving them from the city, and that’s why Westchester and New Jersey are seeing spikes in drug trafficking.”
John Jay’s Karmen agrees that New York’s police tactics deserve a lot of credit.
“However, at the top of the list is the decline in the public’s appetite for crack,” he said. “The epidemic crested, and it’s over like any other epidemic.”
Karmen and Robert McCrie, chairman of John Jay’s law department, also said the surge in the economy – more jobs and a drop in the unemployment rate – is another important factor in the drop in crime.
“People are getting a real job instead of a job in crime,” said McCrie.
Another factor is high-tech crime-control management, including the use of software to analyze citywide patterns of crime and precinct hot spots that can be targeted for crackdowns, said McCrie.
Tougher judges, prosecutors and rules for parole also have contributed to the plummeting crime rate, said the two criminologists.