Bloomberg: A person without numbers

Bloomberg: A person without numbers

This week, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg came face-to-face with a thoroughly frightening notion. What if the numbers do not work? What if the reality that people in our city live in cannot be reduced to a neat series of computations? The crime stats from the Giuliani regime, it seems, may have been cooked. Several high-raking police officials now admit that they distorted crime statistics in order meet the desired outcomes of City Hall.

The key selling point of “Giuliani-time” was its law-and-order message. The administration marketed the idea that they would modernize the New York City Police Department (NYPD) by installing a computerized system called CompStat that would track crime statistics and suggests areas for police concentration. Job evaluations of high and middle ranking police officials would depend on their ability to reduce crime statistics.

Operating behind CompStat was the philosophy of criminology favored by the Giuliani administration – the “broken-windows theory.” Broken-windows argued for placing more police attention on small-scale crimes as a means to identify more serious patterns of criminality. In addition to a police strategy, this philosophy called for the creation of new forms of community organization – such as youth community centers, job-training and educational support programs – to act as poles of attraction away from criminal enterprises.

Giuliani implemented the first part of the philosophy by initiating a crackdown on “quality of life crimes” and flooding communities of color with the NYPD. Not surprisingly, given his conservative credentials and blatant disregard for the demands of particularly the African-American community, he never delivered on the community organizing end of broken-windows. The result was a series of tragic police shootings of innocent civilians, whole-scale community occupations and the daily violation of civil liberties through policies such as the notorious “stop-and-frisk” program.

All along these harsh tactics were sold to New Yorkers necessary parts of the rapid reduction in crime statistics. Bloomberg has continued these trends, albeit with a less overtly racist presentation. But, now that an independent study had proven that these numbers are false – merely the products of NYPD officials looking to keep their jobs – where does it leave New York?

Whether it is policing or educational testing, political policy cannot be made by numbers alone. And statistics cannot be used to justify the level of violence that was unleashed on African-American and Latino communities in this city in the 1990s. The names of the victims remain with us – Baez, Diallo, Dorismond, Louima and many more – and so to do the policing strategies that produced them.

Bloomberg now has a serious problem – his numbers don’t work. Now is the time for New Yorkers to stop acting like statistics and transform our city into a more human place, a place where the development of each of us is enhanced by the development of all. No set of numbers can capture the wonderful possibilities of a city designed to support human needs instead of one focused on meeting crime stat quotas or minimum test scores.


Billy Wharton is the co-chair of the Socialist Party USA