Crime

How New York Won the War on Crime

Understanding Gotham's remarkable transformation

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One December day in 1984, a man named Bernard Goetz boarded a subway train in Manhattan. Shortly after, he was approached by four young men, all black, who requested money in a manner he took as threatening. Goetz, who had been mugged before, pulled out a pistol and opened fire, wounding all four.

Among many New Yorkers and other Americans, Goetz was instantly regarded not as a villain but a hero. At his 1987 trial, he was acquitted of attempted murder and assault and convicted on just one count—illegal weapons possession. The jury, it seems, thought that he had a reasonable fear for his safety.

But then, who didn't? In the 1980s, the city was widely perceived as a pit of chaos and fear, an urban society stumbling toward anarchy. Between 1965 and 1984, the number of violent crimes nearly tripled. In 1984, there were nearly five murders a day. In the following years, things got worse still.

Since then, though, something completely unexpected happened with New York City crime: Most of it vanished.

In his new book, The City That Became Safe (Oxford), Franklin Zimring unrolls a litany of statistics that almost defy belief. The murder rate has dropped by 82 percent. Rapes are down 77 percent, and assaults by two-thirds. Auto theft verges on extinction, after dropping 94 percent.

It's a turnaround so huge that had anyone predicted it at the outset, the prediction would have been grounds for psychiatric commitment. No one would have imagined that even if the city had adopted the best possible crime fighting methods, they would have made such a difference.

To some extent, New York is merely a reflection of the country as a whole. Crime subsided almost everywhere in the 1990s, including the five boroughs. But around 2000, the national crime rate flattened out—while in New York, it kept plunging.

In recent years, crime declined nearly twice as much there as in Los Angeles, which ranked second in improvement among big cities. Its homicide rate, once worse than Chicago's, is now about two-thirds lower.

One possible explanation is that this progress occurred because in the 1990s, we started putting a lot more people in prison, which prevented them from attacking honest citizens. But that doesn't apply in this case.

While authorities elsewhere were building new prisons and filling them up, New York was not. After 1990, notes Zimring, the national incarceration rate rose by 65 percent. In Gotham, it shrank by more than a quarter.

If locking up criminals is essential to combating crime, the city should be awash in violence. Instead, the tide went out—and kept receding.

Maybe we can give the credit to Rudy Giuliani, who came into office in 1994 promising a get-tough approach. But the decline began years before he arrived, and it continued long after he was gone.

He is often credited with adopting the "broken windows" approach: going after relatively minor offenses such as panhandling, graffiti, and prostitution that create an atmosphere of disorder. When police tolerate petty crime, the theory goes, they invite serious crime.

But Zimring finds that this story is, at the very least, greatly exaggerated. Prostitution arrests never rose, and eventually they declined. Arrests for public gambling, another visible "quality of life" offense, also fell after 1997. "The reason that a devotion to across-the-board strict enforcement of public order offenses didn't contribute to the crime decline is that it never happened," he says.

So what accounts for the miracle? Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley, surmises that the biggest factors were focusing cops on high-crime areas and closing down outdoor drug markets, which helped curb gang conflicts that often turned deadly (though it had little effect on drug use). But much of what happened is a mystery.

That's the bad news, since the New York experience yields no easy formula for safe streets. But it proves we can realize vast improvements in safety without first solving all the problems that supposedly cause crime—poverty, bad schools, out-of-wedlock births, drug use, violent movies, and so on.

The crucial discovery, concludes Zimring, is "that life-threatening crime is not an incurable urban disease in the United States." We may not yet be able to say how, exactly, to drastically reduce the dangers that plague our cities. But we know it can be done.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM

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    1. heller, the use of farts in jars greatly helped to clean up New York. Talk about opening a can (jar) of ass.

          1. Upon futher review of the tapes, this one appears to have been mis-appointed.

          1. Upon further review of the tapes, this one should count double.

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              1. You can say that again.

                1. that again

            1. *yawn

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    2. Cities don’t win wars on crime, individuals do. It’s the 80-year-old woman who shoots the burglar that wins the war on crime. It’s the store owner, armed pizza delivery man, and even a teenager in a home with a gun that shoots the burglar, kills the rapist, or maims the thug that seeks to do damage.

      Gentlemen, getting rid of graffitti and making Times Square safe for families may be nice for many, but if I can’t keep and bear arms in NYC without impossible red tape, then the war on crime has been lost.

      http://libertarians4freedom.bl…..crime.html

    1. And the ban on everything.

      1. Though maybe not meat…

        Stapel, who was a professor of social and behavioural sciences at Tilburg, was suspended last month after doubts emerged about research that concluded eating meat makes people anti-social and selfish.
        http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/a…..data_i.php

        Turns out the guy faked data in 30 studies.

  1. I was a kid in the suburbs of New York City during the 1980’s. When my mom took into the city for a day trip, I would keep a $20 bill in my shoe so that we would have bus fare back if someone stole her purse. Now, getting robbing in the city isn’t a fear.

    1. Keep your money in your boots, and your knife in your pocket.

  2. It isn’t really a mystery. New York legalized abortion at the start of the 1970s, so many would-be criminals simply didn’t get born.

    1. Oops, I didn’t see this before writing my log-winded version, below.

    2. im actually happy there are people out there who have read freakonomics!!! (Hopefully more than those who commit to reading the bible!!)

      1. I only watched the documentary.

    3. This is one possibility, as suggested in Freakonomics.

      However, while the authors of that book hit upon an excellent clue – that the causes may precede the effects by many years, specifically the period between birth and highest criminal activity (in the teenage years), there may be other factors.

      Keep in mind that the 1970s also saw a big change as pollution was reduced. There are so many possibilities it is difficult to narrow it down to one, but note that the use of lead as an additive to gasoline was phased out over time, and though the lead solder used in plumbing was stopped suddenly, the existing pipes meant that the exposure to lead reduced over time rather than suddenly (when applied to the community as a whole). This might explain why the decline was not sudden: lead poisoning did not simply stop, but it gradually became less and less of a factor.

      If New York did not overreact by imprisoning more and more people, this might explain why the rate continued to fall in New York whereas it leveled out elsewhere – because there is good reason to believe that longer and more incarceration increases recidivism rates.

      1. Yes, and we all know how that those people growing up in the highly polluted 50’s and 60’s turned out to be a gang of vicious criminals. I think they are also called the Baby Bombers if I am not mistaken.

        1. And pollution was far worse prior to the automobile. And lead was used far more prior to WWII, especially as a pigment in dyes, inks and paints that could come into contact with food and beverages.

          1. Good points. Keep in mind that lead was an example, not the only possibility; that well-maintained paint does not carry the same risks as paint chips; that the lead from gasoline permeated the air; and that pollution was generally worse in poor neighborhoods.

            1. Kids also don’t tend to eat paint chips when they aren’t malnourished and suffering from pica.

  3. It’s too bad there isn’t a record out there (and maybe it could be mapped to parcels and shown on a time lapse GIS map) showing apartment conversions to co-op and condominium in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I bet that would line up to the decline in crime pretty nicely.

    Crime fell in NYC because the population was evicted one apartment at a time and kicked out to god knows where, and rich people moved in. Rich people don’t mug people.

    1. This might be a good explanation for why NYC crime rates continued to fall, except gentrification happened in a lot of other cities where rates flattened. Also, rich people don’t tend to move into areas until after the crime rates fall. They can afford to live where it’s safer.

    2. “Rich people don’t mug people.”
      … on the street.

  4. I thought it was obvious:

    What happened all over the country, all at the same time, that would make the young men of the 1990s and after less likely to have grown up in poverty and single-parent households, two very strong predictors of criminal behavior?

    January 22, 1973, abortion suddenly became legal, and quickly became cheap. Twenty years later you suddenly had a mass of kids of mothers who never wanted them — criminally-inclined teenagers — not come into existence.

    That this trend would continue in New York City where poverty is widespread and abortion became essentially free… is a surprise? When you make something cheaper you get more of it. If that in turn reduces something else, don’t you tend to get less?

    1. Would-be criminals aborted? Plausible explanation.

    2. I’m surprised there wasn’t a mention to Freakonomics in this article. AFAIK, their hypothesis that abortion was the primary cause of decrease hasn’t been disproven.

      1. It’s a tough argument to beat. But don’t lead with it on a first date!

        1. “you suddenly had a mass of kids of mothers who never wanted them — criminally-inclined teenagers — not come into existence.”

          No, they came into existence, and then they were killed.

          The simple device of legalizing abortion means that abortion aren’t counted in the crime rates, which begs the underlying question of whether it *should* be legal.

          If abortion is wrong and ought to be a crime, then that simply means that one crime (a form of homicide) prevented other crimes.

          1. That’s an insightful point.

          2. Do unto others before they do unto you!

          3. No, they came into existence, and then they were killed.

            If you care to pick nits, I’m happy to pick yours:
            The “criminally-inclined teenagers” never came into existence. These people were never teenagers. Answer the statement, not your knee-jerk.

            which begs the underlying question

            Begging the question refers to assuming in an argument what you also claim to be proving. Look it up.

            If abortion is wrong and ought to be a crime, then that simply means that one crime (a form of homicide) prevented other crimes.

            Let’s assume for the moment that the abortion ended an actual human being, which is what you imply by your references to “homicide.” If you care to refrain people who care to kill their own children from doing so, then it follows that baby killers will multiply. What kind of population do you expect then? Do you want a world full of baby killers?

            If abortion is a problem, then it’s a self-correcting one.

          4. If abortion is wrong and ought to be a crime, then that simply means that one crime (a form of homicide) prevented other crimes.

            That’s a big if.

      2. No but im still skeptical considering that most research I’ve seen on abortion indicates it is usually the middle class or wealthy that get them. Not individuals who come from familiies more predisposed to crime because of their economic condition.

    3. Abortion was legal in NY State prior to Roe.

      1. Hardly a point worth making. People migrate.

        1. Besides, abortions were much more expensive prior to Roe v Wade. Pregnant single women in poverty have a tough time ponying up $500 compared to less than $100. The cost of an abortion fell precipitously after Roe.

    4. See my comment above. Abortion may well be one component, but the removal of lead from the environment about the same time may be another, as well as cleaning up the environment in general.

      (Please note: I’m not arguing that incremental improvements in the environment now will be especially effective – just that in the years prior to the environmental movement things got really unhealthy – which might also explain the increase in the crime rate that preceded the decline.)

      1. The lead thing is a load of shit, and cities are still full of lead. And New York is still full of shit.

    5. So Bob Grant may have been on to something. He wanted abortions mandatory for welfare moms.

      1. That seems a little harsh, but I’d agree with birth control injections.

  5. Thomas Sowell attributes the reduction in crime to an aging society. Young men between the ages of 18 and 27 commit over 75% of all violent crime. As we age, and there is a smaller percentage of young men, crime goes down as a percentage.

    This also fits with the seeming disproportionate number of illegal immigrants in jail. It isn’t that an immigrant, even one willing to break immigration laws, is more likely to commit crime. It is simply that this group is also made up of a high percentage of young men.

    1. Thomas Sowell is a brilliant man. This may well explain New York City as well. After all, what young person would voluntarily move to New York City, other than a masochist that is. Most people prefer to live in places larger than an average sized closet.

      1. I think it was here at reason that there was an article posted saying that although lefty states in New England have lower unemployment rates, it may be because the young people more likely to be unemployed have moved elsewhere.

        1. Go West (or South) Young Man (or Woman) seems like pretty good advice today. Most New England states (New Hampshire may be an exception to this) are killing their own economies by taxing everything that moves and regulating anything that doesn’t move. And they wonder why young people don’t want to live there.

    2. I’ll also add (as a small modifier) the cell phone. When it’s easier to report an ongoing crime, it seems it would make criminals more wary.

      1. I think Hummungus has it. It was much easier to rape or physically assault someone in a dark alley, before they had the ability to instantly call 911 when they were first approached.

      2. Cameras, as well.

        1. This doesn’t really factor of NYC but for the rest of the country the ability to acquire a conceal carry license since the 1970s must be a factor in some way as well.

    3. Increasing the number of abortions (i.e. lowering birth rate) would cause the average age of population to increase.

      1. This depends upon the age of the person being aborted. If the person being aborted has not even being born yet this is true. But if the person being born is the median age of a radical leftist-feminist this will actually lower the average population age.

        1. Okaaay… How old were you when you were born?
          (Silly me, I thought everyone was born about a year before the age of one!)

  6. If you write an article about a fact that most people already knows and do not offer even a hypothesis about why, what have you done ?

    1. You have wasted people’s time and inconvenienced a lot of electrons.

      1. Yes, misleading title and weak first attempt. Please add some details to this article that might make it worth reading.

        1. The idea of a “war on crime” killed any chance of this article’s worthiness anyways.

      2. “…inconvenienced a lot of electrons.”

        fucking classic!

    2. being born in the 80’s, i didn’t know about this.

      maybe i’m still too young for politics.

  7. Im pretty sure that the Baby Boomers have a stronger predeliction to violence than other recent generations. As they aged out of their prime crime-committing years, the overall rate of crime decreased more noticeably due to their proportionally higher numbers than the subsequent generation.

    1. Note my comments suggesting that the presence of lead in the environment (as an additive to gasoline, in the solder used on water pipes) may have played a role. Its presence would have been highest during the childhood years of the baby boomers. It began to gradually decline as leaded gasoline was phased out and old water pipes began to be replaced, about the same time that abortion became legal in most states.

      1. Its far more likely that the “baby boomers” were/are the most entitled group, ever.

        1. Well, yes. That’s a given – but something of a non sequitur.

  8. I think one of the reasons violent crime went down in LA is because of the three strikes law–but not for the reason most people think.

    A lot of convicted criminals blamed public support for the three strikes law–rightly or wrongly–on drive-by shootings that were always on the local news. So, prisoners started treating people charged with drive-by shootings like they were child molesters, rapists or arsonists in the jails and in prison. There are people in our jails and prisons who imagine it their proper role in society to rain vengeance on rapists, child molesters and arsonists.

    Word quickly made it out to the street–if you don’t want to be treated like a child molester in prison by someone who’s doing a life sentence for stealing a car–and that was his third strike? Then don’t do a drive-by shooting.

    So, anyway, the three strikes effect wasn’t necessarily just about keeping would-be murders in prison–it was also about people in prison, notably gang members, enforcing their own ban on drive-by shootings.

    Of course, that was a stupid reason to support the three strikes law in the beginning. No one could have reasonably predicted that would happen when it was proposed or could have reasonably supported it when it was proposed on that basis.

    And this libertarian is of the opinion that three strikes laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment in that they consist of punishing someone for an extra fourth crime–one that was never committed or tried by a jury.

    I’m also of the opinion that I prefer freedom generally, often regardless of outcome. The ends don’t necessarily justify the means.

    1. No one could have reasonably predicted that would happen when it was proposed or could have reasonably supported it when it was proposed on that basis.

      Actually, that was how it was sold. The deterrant effect. The exact mechanism wasnt explained, but it seems the people who pushed it were right, assuming your thesis is correct.

      1. We’re gonna rely on the shotcallers in prison to control their own gangs?

        We’re gonna put this law into effect, and then count on the animals in LA County jail and our prisons to gang rape drive-by shooters until there aren’t any drive by shootings anymore?

        That was not the way the law was sold.

        The way the law was sold was–if we keep drive-by shooters locked up in prison forever, then it’ll be really hard for them to do more drive-by shootings.

        1. No, 3 strike was sold as “threat of life in prison will have deterrant effect”.

          And it did. Just not the mechanism most would have assumed from that statement.

        2. Also, while Ive never been in California in my life, when they passed the law, it was debated nationwide and I never heard drive-bys mentioned.

    2. This libertarian is of the opinion that locking people up in a cage with murderers and rapists is cruel and unusual.
      I would go back to pain and public humiliation if I were king.
      Whipping post, stocks and gallows.
      This whole idea that taking away a measurable portion of someone’s life by locking them in a cage will somehow make them a better member of society is a bunch of shit.

      1. I agree. If the crime isn’t worth losing either a limb or your life over, is it really a crime?

      2. There is considerable evidence that small but consistent punishment is much more useful in reducing crime than harsh but intermittent punishment.

        1. So does that mean being forced to watch 15 minutes of maddow would do more to reduce crime than 5 years in prison? But wait, theres the cruel and unusual part.

          1. If we made everyone do it, it wouldn’t be unusual. Only cruel.

      3. This whole idea that taking away a measurable portion of someone’s life by locking them in a cage will somehow make them a better member of society is a bunch of shit.

        I don’t think anybody was thinking about reforming anybody in regards to the three strikes law.

        Four justifications for prison.

        1)Rehabilitation
        2)Deterrent
        3)Retribution
        4)Incapacitation

        Three strikes was and is all about retribution and incapacitation.

        It’s hard to argue against the idea that prisoners in prison are gonna have a hard time getting to us or our children.

        Nobody gives a damn about rehabilitation anymore.

        This libertarian is of the opinion that locking people up in a cage with murderers and rapists is cruel and unusual.

        Generally speaking, those people are segregated in prison now. That’s protective custody.

        That’s one of the reasons people think twice about asking for protective custody–you’re gonna be locked up with rapists and molesters, etc., and while that might save you from potshots coming from the general population, what’s gonna save you from the other people in protective custody?

        In county jail? That’s another animal entirely. Everybody’s kinda thrown together until they’re convicted of something. That’s why a lot of people plead guilty when they’re in county–just to get out of county jail and into prison where it’s much safer.

        I’ve heard people say they’d rather do months in prison than a week in county.

  9. Looks like someone’s trollbot has gone full Priss on this thread.

    1. I’ve always thought of her more as Gollum, but Pris works well too.

      It is suggested in Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human that Pris was in fact an insane human who believed that she was a replicant.[3]

      1. i’d hit it EITHER way

  10. we dont know what we did, but we must have done something other wise it wouldnt have happened…clear case of rectal-cranial inversion

    1. People realized New York is a shithole and decided to leave of their own free will?

  11. Aging population
    Plasticification of cash
    Cell phones

  12. sarcasmic | 11.14.11 @ 9:02AM | # This libertarian is of the opinion that locking people up in a cage with murderers and rapists is cruel and unusual. I would go back to pain and public humiliation if I were king. Whipping post, stocks and gallows. This whole idea that taking away a measurable portion of someone’s life by locking them in a cage will somehow make them a better member of society is a bunch of shit.

    Agreed. Today’s prison society is only possible in advanced society that can afford to isolate a significant fraction of its potentially productive members and pay for them to live apart, unproductively. It is a tragedy that, god help us, White Indian might appreciate.

    1. The liberal thinks that western society should make everyone so happy they do not commit crime. This is not possible. If there is little crime in an African village, it is not because everyone is happy. It is because in a small community where you know everyone, crime exacts too high a cost on the criminal, who is disgraced, abused, insulted, berated and who shames his family.

      Our prison system is what you get when one, everyone is a stranger and two, society thinks that allcrime should be officially noted and punished. We think we should be always safe. In an African village, some “crimes” may not be considered as such, for instance, rape of some people by some other people. There may be no recourse for the victim and no sympathy.

      Our system is designed to punish and deter. That, plus a moral system that teaches no matter what you can’t commit a crime used to work. Now it longer does. Then people will have to find other ways to defend themselves from crime, gated communities, private armies. One thing we can’t do is make everyone so fulfilled, rich, and happy that they never commit a crime.

      Rudy Guiliani was the one that reduced crime. He did not wait for all of society’s ills to be cured.

      1. Fuck Guiliani. He “cleaned up” all the tourist and upperish class areas with paternalist and symbolic bullshit, and ignored the more impoverished areas. He had nothing to do with reducing crime in those areas, which saw reduced crime and some gentrification on there own.

  13. clear case of rectal-cranial inversion

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  15. It is suggested in Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human that Pris was in fact an insane human who believed that she was a replicant

  16. Simple: the criminals all moved to Newburgh.

  17. “How New York Won the War on Crime”

    “much of what happened is a mystery.”

    Oh, thanks.

  18. Discussions about crime always evolve into the broadests sense even though most crime in the US is localized. Take out a few neighborhoods in a few metro areas in the US and we look like the one of the safest places on earth.

    Most crime involves the victim and criminal both being minority; that this crime continue perpetually is crucial for the profitablity of the local news industry. The cause is not so much racial as cultural. Normally this crime would be condemned, but some segments of society justify this crime as a natural response to racial injustices suffered long ago.

    Even though the motivation for crime is most likely not due to the white man keeping you down, those who continue to point to that and continue in their efforts to solve that problem and by extension the crime problem are baffled when crime continues.

    They fight a mythical causation, the effect continues, they remain baffled as to why it does, and finally conclude that efforts must be redoubled yet again.

  19. “If locking up criminals is essential to combating crime, the city should be awash in violence. Instead, the tide went out?and kept receding.”

    That isn’t a good argument since criminals move around.

  20. How confident are we with respect to the crime statistics being measured? There was a sudden, consistent linear decline since the mid 1990’s- leads me to believe that this has to do with how crime rates are compiled and/or defined.

    1. homicides, though, are hard to fudge.

      and there are literally SCORES of thousands of people who would be dead… who aren’t… due to decline in homicide rates

      NYC is actually quite a safe city. statistically speaking it is MUCH safer than shitholes like oakland, etc.

      liberal hipsters lament the “disneyification” of times square etc.

      they used to brag about being mugged. it was a “i’m a city hipster street cred” thing to have mugging stories.

      i read a recent stat about how the average manhattanite could go 10 yrs wihtout even seeing a cop with their gun out of the holster… on average… in that period.

      simply put, it’s a remarkably safe, low crime city as compared to the bad old days.

      1. Two thoughts on that from a native NYC’er who remembers some of the bad old days.

        1. People dislike Giuliani and what he did to Times Square not just because we thought prostitutes and open-air drug sales were cool, but because a lot of how he did it was pretty underhanded and did, in fact, sell out locals for the benefit of big businesses with little or no NYC connection.

        2. The NYPD’s control seems to be slipping in some places. I live in an iffy neighborhood, and things are getting worse here. Overall, the city is much better than it once was – the other day I was in Central Park after nightfall, something I once wouldn’t have recommended to anyone – but there are still neighborhoods in which cops are rarely seen and gunfire after dark is not remarkable. The improvement has been noticeably unequal.

        1. yup. and i can tell you the pushback at “proactive policing” and guiliani etc. HAS caused a lot of NYPD cops to go “fuck it” and just stop doing onviews/being proactive.

          we refer to it as “depolicing”

      2. I really hate when people lament how Times Square was ‘Disneyfied’ and liked it better when it was ‘gritty’ and full of prostitution, drug sales, and other criminal activity. Screw that, Times Square is clean, safe, and a real tourist destination now. I don’t go there very often because it’s so crowded and full of tourists, but I prefer that to the shithole it used to be,

        1. yup. that kind of hipsterism drives me nuts.

          1. C’mon– what tasteful person doesn’t prefer the “gritty” Times Square of yesteryear?

            When it was dirty & wretched, it was at least interesting, sociologically.
            Now? A cattle-chute– MOOOO.

  21. “So what accounts for the miracle? Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley, surmises that the biggest factors were focusing cops on high-crime areas and closing down outdoor drug markets, which helped curb gang conflicts that often turned deadly (though it had little effect on drug use).”

    this is largely correct. it’s also part of how the mythology about ‘racial profiling’ got started.

    sure, there was disproportionate enforcement. cops went (and generally do) go after dealing that is more ‘blatant’ iow done in public open air type markets vs. more “discreet” type drug use/sales.

    that’s because such crimes are viewed as more important according to people requesting police ‘crack down’ on drugs, as ANY visit to a local community meeting will confirm, and of course they are also EASIER to enforce.

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  22. crime didnt go down the bodies where just buried deeper or further out to see and rapes where watered down and called simple assaults. property crimes were down because most people figured it was pointless to report it. car theft was down because it was easier to steal one in jersey

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  24. DEM-O-GRAPHICS dude. Boomers to lame to climb through windows, to tired to fight, and no more libido for sex crimes.

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  26. crime didnt go down the bodies where just buried deeper or further out to see and rapes where watered down and called simple assaults. property crimes were down because most people figured it was pointless to report it. car theft was down because it was easier to steal one in jersey

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