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Did Rudy Giuliani Actually Make New York Safer?

Here are the facts about the past and the (very scary) possible future.

With Donald Trump's ascension to President-elect, we are being introduced and re-introduced to a whole cast of terrifying right-wing characters. One of the most prominent figures to re-emerge is Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is often considered the leader who made the city safe. While Guiliani was once a favorite of America's premier cosmopolitan metropolis, his stark swerve into frothing racism and anti-Beyonce politics has many questioning him and his policies. But how valid are the claims he makes about his time as New York's mayor, anyway?

Guiliani, along with his police commissioner Bill Braton, had implemented a policy known as "Broken Windows" to accomplish the impressive feat of "cleaning" the city. The idea behind the policy was to target even the smallest of crimes like graffiti, vandalism, and non-violent drug usage — thus creating an atmosphere of order and lawfulness. Broken Windows did a lot to change public opinion of the city, which had been described as "an open-air drug market" by city-journal.org.

Broken Windows would later evolve into a justification for the controversial "Stop and Frisk" policies the New York Police Department more recently dropped. Under Giuliani "misdemeanor arrests increased 70 percent ... robberies dropped 2.5 to 3.2 percent, and motor vehicle theft declined by 1.6 to 2.1 percent ... the police force in New York City grew by 35 percent in the 1990s[and] the numbers of prison inmates rose 24 percent" according to nber.org. Even more startling: "The violent crime rate dropped by 56 percent during the eight years [Giuliani] served as mayor. Murder, down nearly two-thirds. Robbery, down 67 percent. Aggravated assault, down 28 percent."

While it's easy to suggest that it was Giuliani's tough reforms that ultimately resulted in a less crime-riddled city, more recent analysis of the situation reveals that things are far more complicated. Politifact notes that violent crime "began falling three years before Giuliani took office in 1994" and that "Independent studies generally have failed to link the tactics of the Giuliani administration with the large decrease in crime rates." It seems like factors other than Rudy's policies were at play here.

Let's also not forget bigger questions about safety in general: sure NYC might have gotten "safer" for some, but certainly not for the black and brown communities who were and are targeted unfairly by these policies. With over five million stopped by police, these practices have proven to be racially informed. According to Gothamist, "86% of [people stopped were] black or Hispanic; 88% were completely innocent, and only 6% of the remaining stops resulted in arrests." In fact, Stop and Frisk became so entangled with discrimination that a judge ruled in 2013 that New York City’s stop-and-frisk program was carried out in a manner that violated the U.S. Constitution."

"The NYPD’s use of broken windows policing doesn’t make anyone safer," said NYCLU Advocacy Director, Johanna Miller unequivocally in July. "Instead, it erodes community confidence in the police and introduces millions of people into the criminal justice system.“

Arresting more criminals sounds great to those easily mongered by fear, but now we have a prison-overcrowding problem, too. This comes with its own set of specific issues, like the fact that according to the New York Times "40 percent of the population at Rikers" is mentally ill — with many of that population thrown into jail for the small infractions Broken Windows purposefully targeted. New York now must struggle with how to treat both the sick and the deviant humanely, a problem we are not handling particularly well

The scariest part of this is that Donald Trump wants to implement Guiliani's policies on a national level andis thinking about putting Guiliani himself on his highest advisory board, despite mounting evidence against his effectiveness and increasing criticism of the implementation of his mandates. 

The issues here are immensely complex and can hardly be summarized in a single blog post. Nonetheless, Rudy Guiliani was widely considered a hero by a specific kind of New Yorker (especially after September 11th), but as conversations about racial equality and social justice have evolved in the decades since his time as Mayor, many are questioning the actual quality of his reign. Similarly, others are calling attention to his fervent turn evermore rightward. And it's hard not to question him when he sounds like this now:

Do we really want this guy on a presidential cabinet?

[Photo: Getty Images]

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