Crackdowns work

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
January 6, 2006

To combat rising gun crime in Toronto, Mayor David Miller believes young hoodlums need positive role models. Good idea. To set an example, the Mayor should choose a good role model for himself: Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani is well-known as the man who cleaned up New York, a city once synonymous with crime and dereliction. Upon assuming the mayoralty in 1994, he adopted the zero-tolerance crime-fighting approach known as Broken Windows, so called on the theory that “if the first broken window in a building is not repaired, then people who like breaking windows will assume that no one cares about the building and more windows will be broken. Soon the building will have no windows.”

When Giuliani directed New York’s finest to crack down on people who jaywalked or jumped subway turnstiles, they found one in seven had a concealed weapon or a felony warrant. The criminals were incarcerated and the streets cleaned up. New York’s overall crime fell by 44% and its murder rate by 61%. New York, once a mugger’s preserve, became the safest big city in America. By cracking down on petty criminals, the city simultaneously rid itself of those willing to break big laws.
CREDIT: Mario Tama, Getty Images
New York City, once synonymous with crime,
is now the safest big U.S. city.

But Giuliani’s genius involved more than getting rid of the criminal rot. When he took office, more than one million New Yorkers collected welfare, making them role models for no one. Giuliani attacked welfare dependency, a breeding ground for criminals and a cause of neighbourhood dissolution, to complement his attack on those making a life of crime. In the country’s largest welfare-to-work initiative, he cut welfare rolls in half, putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work, restoring their self-worth and giving them a stake in their community.

Just as important, Giuliani took steps to prevent city districts from becoming derelict and inviting to criminals. To keep businesses and residents from fleeing the city, and to keep the city alive at night, he cut the commercial rent tax, the hotel occupancy tax and the unincorporated business tax, as well as taxes that hit households – all told more than US$2.5-billion in tax reductions. He also cut the city’s payroll by 20,000. The effect: He converted the US$2.2-billion dollar budget deficit he inherited into a multi-billion-dollar surplus, spurred the creation of 450,000 new private sector jobs, and made the city a magnet for tourists and a haven for householders. Safe, secure and solvent, New York’s population boomed past the eight million mark for the first time in its history.

Toronto Mayor Miller, in contrast, is the anti-Giuliani, raising taxes to record levels, inviting ever more people to join the welfare ranks through new social spending and staying soft on crime. As with Giuliani’s well-meaning, big-spending predecessors, gun-related homicides have soared on Miller’s watch while many in the middle class head for the suburbs. Miller takes token measures – a few extra cops here, a few extra pleas for stricter-still gun laws there – but unlike Giuliani, he hasn’t been dealing with the root causes of crime. Instead, he rewards those who prefer welfare to work that they consider beneath themselves, he backs a tax system that makes chumps of those who play by the rules and a penal system in which the costs of crime are small relative to the benefits.

Miller should be calling for bigger prisons, and more of them – the provincial government’s expectation that welfare payments would cost less than prison meals has been dashed. He should be calling for mandatory sentences for anyone caught with illicit weapons – gun-control laws can’t work without penalties for flouting them. And, armed with these tools, he should direct his police force to see that those prisons are fully occupied, by targeting gang members and other criminals.

New York’s approach to law enforcement has become a model for other cities around the world. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University acknowledged New York’s crime-busting approach by giving it the prize for Inventiveness in Government. Miller, a Harvard graduate, should look to his alma mater for guidance.

Lawrence Solomon, author of the forthcoming book Toronto Sprawls, is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation.; www.urban.probeinternational.org.

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