For 2012, New York maintained its status as one of the nation’s success stories in reducing their city’s murder rate.  While Chicago homicides escalated in 2012, New York murders dropped 21% from 2011.  The factors underlying New York’s success remain in dispute.  (See the discussion here.) 

In any discussion of of homicide, there are two important things to understand about the murder rate.  First is that murder is the most accurately reported crime.  While statistics can be fudged and police departments around the country have at various times been accused of “cooking” their crime stats, the count on dead bodies is difficult to cheat on.  Second, while accurate, the murder rate may not be the single most important barometer of the violent crime picture.  While police authorities will move quickly to claim success when the rate drops, too often ignored is the role of improved emergency medicine, which saves gunshot victims at a much higher rate than in years past.  Some have argued that tracking aggravated assaults or simply shootings may be a more accurate way to determine success or failure.

Nonetheless, New York’s declining murder rate over the years is impressive.  Most authorities will give much of the credit to the COMPSTAT approach.  Simply put, the NYPD puts a heavy emphasis on identifying crime hot spots and holding police commanders accountable for driving the crime problems at that location down.  And what we know about many of these hot spots is that they are locations characterized by drug trafficking and open air drug markets.  Concentrated law enforcement efforts at these locations will almost always show results, some short term and some longer term.  Police officials often find themselves chasing these locations as the illegal drug market adapts to the enforcement efforts.

I believe there is a more effective strategy and that is to undercut the illegal drug markets  at every location.  How do we do this?  The most effective step would be to move marijuana, the illegal market’s number one product, to a legal, regulated market.  This could deprive the illegal market of 60% of their revenue.

At the end of alcohol prohibition, a historian wrote that when the federal government imposed alcohol prohibition, it moved billions of dollars from from the hands of brewers, distillers, truck drivers, bars and restaurants into the hands of murders and thugs.  By ending the failed marijuana prohibition, we can accomplish the opposite — moving billions of dollars from the hands of the murders and thugs operating the drug cartels into the hands of the legal economy.