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New York Murder Mystery:
The True Story behind the Crime Crash of the 1990s

By Andrew Karmen

In this book, criminologist Andrew Karmen explains the many factors at work behind the drop in crime in New York City in the 1990s.

316 pages
New York University Press (2000)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard
New York Murder Mystery: The True Story behind the Crime Crash of the 1990s is dedicated to the 32,600 New Yorkers who were murdered between 1978 and 1998. That stark number acts as a grimly effective counterweight to the much-ballyhooed drop in crime—including murder—that New York enjoyed in the last decade. Karmen's analysis also undercuts all pet causes and rationales.

In this book, his thorough, well-researched conclusion is that the causes of the dramatic drop in crime in New York were many and that none can be isolated as a direct cause. A researcher can say that things happened and crime decreased, but it is something of a stretch to say that crime decreased because things happened.

Different chapters examine each of the presumptive factors for the decrease in murder. One chapter finds that while the well-publicized reform of the New York Police Department was certainly welcome, a direct correlation between the reform and the reduction in crime is hard to pinpoint. Other chapters similarly examine the theories that 1) longer prison terms were keeping habitual criminals off the streets, 2) the drug wars wound down, 3) the economy improved, and 4) a new wave of law-abiding immigrants helped change neighborhoods. In short, the best (but not definitive) answer is "all of the above" as the answer to the question of what caused crime in New York to drop. Another way of putting it is that the lock-'em-up conservatives and the get-'em-jobs liberals were both right, and that, fortunately for New York, several crime-reducing social trends converged.

Those who think that it may be time to move to New York should know, however, that the crime statistics have started to move up again. So far, no one has claimed credit for that.

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer