Cracks in Crack Policy

Otis White notes that homicides are on the rise in Oakland and Boston and he predicts this will prompt more mayors to adopt “broken window” approaches to crime control. This approach is often credited with New York’s dramatic drop in crime. Yet:

Several sets of academics have looked again at broken windows, and they’re not convinced that it’s the cure-all Bratton says it is. Latest to weigh in: Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago law professor, and Jens Ludwig, a public policy professor at Georgetown. In an article scheduled for publication soon, they write that crime in New York was destined to fall. Reason: The precincts where broken-windows strategies appeared to have the greatest impact were places that were suffering in the 1980s from the crack cocaine epidemic. For reasons unconnected with police strategies, they write, the crack epidemic eased in the 1990s. Bottom line: Bratton arrived as the enemy was beginning its retreat and promptly declared victory. (To download an early version of Harcourt and Ludwig’s paper, click here.) What caused the crack epidemic to ease? The price came down, and dealers were less inclined to risk their lives battling over it, Harcourt and Ludwig say.

More evidence that drugs aren’t as dangerous as drug prohibition. Writing in Crack in America, Goldstein et al point out that the “vast bulk of crack-related homicides occurred between dealers or between dealers and users.” Back to White:

[Harcourt and Ludwig] point to another study that seems to contradict the idea that orderly neighborhoods are an antidote to crime. It was a study of public-housing residents who were relocated from their high-crime high-rises to more affluent, orderly neighborhoods. The result: little change in the crime rates among the transplanted families. “…Moving people to communities with less social or physical disorder – the key intervening factor in the original Wilson and Kelling broken-windows hypothesisââ?¬â??on balance does not lead to reductions in their criminal behavior,” Harcourt and Ludwig write.