Craig Horowitz’s cover story “The Suddenly Safer City” in New York magazine’s August 14, 1995 issue describes new measures implemented in the New York City Police Department under the administrations of Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Commissioner William Bratton, and the extent to which this transformation has made the city feel qualitatively safer to its residents. In the article, Horowitz interviews several officers and city residents who attest to the department’s more aggressive disposition in actively seeking to make arrests, a tack that has pushed drug-dealers to take their business inside, behind closed doors. Bratton describes this territorial shift in military terms, comparing the proliferation of indoor criminal activity to “push[ing] the enemy off the beaches” during D-Day in World War II. Giuliani and Bratton’s approach was greatly influenced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s article “Broken Windows” for The Atlantic, which challenged this conventional view by arguing that crime management, especially taking action against smaller infractions to send a message of zero-tolerance, must precede social improvement.
In spite of the esteem that Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bratton state that they are owed for the declining crime rate, with one official comparing the department’s “historic achievements” to those of the 1927 New York Yankees, these figures receive little attention. One noted source of this indifference is the fact that this new policing approach runs directly counter to received sociological and criminological wisdom from the previous three decades, which holds that crime has complex systemic roots that are entirely ignored with the government’s exclusive focus on intensifying police activity. The merit of this perspective comes to the fore when one resident states that drugs often provide a temporary, quick, and necessary way to make a living that allows one to “escape” a troubled neighborhood.
The results of these new practices cited in Horowitz’s article are ambivalent, with another resident asserting that things must have improved to some extent since he hears less gunshots at night. At the same time, he also admits that he often does not “‘know whether to duck from them [the cops] or the criminals,’” and that this crackdown breeds hostility. More bluntly, one woman states that her neighborhood is in the worst condition she’s seen and that, in contrast to the police department’s claims, the drug problem has only increased under Mayor Giuliani.