Criminal Justice Conversations with David Onek: Frank Zimring, Berkeley Law School

May 11, 2010

In Episode #11, Berkeley Law Professor Frank Zimring discusses New York City's remarkable crime decline in the past twenty years and the related policy implications.

Zimring Interview Highlights

Zimring on the Unprecedented Decline in New York City's Crime Rate:

“Four-fifths of the crime rate in this large American city has disappeared in a two-decade period. The homicide rate in 2009 in New York City is 18% of what the homicide rate was in 1990. The robbery rate is 16% of what it was. And the all-time award winner is auto theft … The auto theft rate in New York City in 2009 is 6% of what it was in 1990. This is a substantial decline of a kind that no American city has ever experienced in the recorded history of crime statistics.”

Zimring on the Lessons from New York City's Crime Decline:

“The thing that is being missed about the lessons from New York City is that the two largest assumptions that have been driving crime policy in this country are probably the wrong way to go about things. Our theory was that … only incapacitation works. New York has disproved that. Their incarceration rate is down 28% and their crime is down 80%. So we now know that you don’t need mega-imprisonment policy to have substantial decline in crime … The second article of faith in America is that you can’t get crime control without winning the war on drugs. But when you take a look at New York City’s drug overdose death rate, and it’s down 15 or 20%, but their drug killings are down 90%, all of a sudden you realize that drug violence and illegal drug use may be two different problems. ”

Zimring on His Advice to a Mayor on How to Reduce Crime:

“The first thing I can tell the mayor in city X is that we now know for the first time that policing really matters. And I can give him two or three different things to do with policing that have been proved to work:… problem solving policing, hot spot techniques, if you have any open air street drug markets, close them fast. Those are off the shelf technologies that are going to work very well.”


The Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast with David Onek features in-depth, thirty-minute interviews with a wide range of criminal justice leaders: law enforcement officials, policymakers, advocates, service providers, academics and others.

The Podcast gets behind the sound bites that far too often dominate the public dialogue about criminal justice, to have detailed, nuanced conversations about criminal justice policy.

Podcast host David Onek is a Senior Fellow at Berkeley Law School and a former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission.

You can find more information on the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast and listen to all past episodes on the Podcast web site.

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