State of Surveillance Privacy vs. Security

The drop in crime in New York in the last 40 years has been nothing short of miraculous. In the 1970s, the city’s obvious danger was notorious. Muggings were commonplace. Subway cars rolled along the tracks tagged in graffiti and ugly fluorescent spray paint. The murder rate was staggering. Mayor John V. Lindsay, well-intentioned but in over his head, walked the city as if in a daze, and if some enterprising vandal ran up and tagged the back of his suit, no one would have been surprised.

Twenty years later, the situation had improved somewhat, but the criminals were still winning the war. Vast sections of Manhattan were notoriously unsafe at night, to say nothing of the rough-and-tumble outer boroughs. Alphabet City was widely considered a wasteland, neighborhood parents warned their kids not to ever enter there.

In 1991, the city actually closed down Tompkins Square Park because the drug use and attendant crime had become so pervasive. Even 42nd Street, a thoroughfare that was a bona fide Broadway tourist destination, was more renowned for prostitution and peepshows than the long-running show Cats.

Then along came tough knuckle prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, who was elected mayor in 1994, and began an effort to clean up the city. Whether the credit is due to him, his chief of police, the booming real estate market, or all three, New York underwent a radical transformation under his watch that continued with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “New York is the safest big city in the nation, and our crime reductions have been steeper than any other big city’s,” Bloomberg boasted recently. We can look to the FBI’s crime statistics and find that yes, this is borne out—the murder rate, the property crime rate, the assault rate, all of it is the lowest per capita of any city in the country.

The proof is in the real estate market. Critics may lament the “Disneyfication” of Times Square and the Theater District, but there’s no question that it’s safer. Tompkins Square Park has been appropriated by little children and friendly dogs. Fancy restaurants line the cobblestone streets of the Meatpacking District. Hell’s Kitchen, Harlem, Morningside Heights, Alphabet City—all are thriving. Even Bedford Stuyvesant—Bed Stuy—has become a fashionable place to live.


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