By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Way back when Rudy Giuliani was U.S. Attorney and was prosecuting cases that had news organizations salivating, he mastered the art of shaping coverage by controlling, and cleverly channeling, the flow of information. But the proprietary power a prosecutor has over the secrets he gathers does not extend to City Hall, where some data is public, even in an administration that hoards and doctors it.
Yet, since the slaying of Amadou Diallo almost a month ago, the mayor has been dumping phony numbers on us about the restraint of his police force almost daily, even taking them on a traveling show to Washington last week, and the media has just let him talk. Not a word of context. Not a contrary digit.
When pressured by Congressman Gregory Meeks during his recent House testimony, Giuliani put his hand up in the air and swore that there'd been 50 percent fewer "police shootings" in 1998 than in 1993, the final year of his predecessor, David Dinkins. Since the Diallo incident was more than a mere "police shooting" defined as the number of incidents in which police fire at a perpetrator, whether they hit him or not it was a curious statistical choice. Presumably the mayor picked it, rather than the much more parallel stat of "police fatal fire," because the numbers worked better for him.
Had he focused on police killings, he would have had to admit that the number declined dramatically under Dinkins, falling from 39 in 1990 to 22 in 1993, a 44 percent drop. He would also have had to explain why it soared to 30 in Giuliani's first year and stayed roughly at that higher-than-Dinkins level for 1995 and 1996, declining only in the last two years. In 1998, cops killed 19 people, three less than in 1993, for a drop of only 13.6 percent over the five Giuliani years.
You could scour the 35-page 1993 Firearms Discharge Assault Report and not find the 212 total for "police shootings" that Giuliani cited in his House appearance. He got it by lumping together shootings described separately in "the reasons" for firing tally as "self- defense," "at a vehicle," and "other." Since no formal firearms report for 1998 has been released (though selective references have been made to it in NYPD press releases) and no definition of "other" is offered, it's impossible to tell if the 111 Giuliani shooting figure for 1998 is a valid comparison.
More important, the stat is meaningless. Police shootings should, in any rational world, be a function of the number of times police are shot at, or the incidents when they confront an armed opponent. Consider these figures from the last complete report in 1997:
E Between 1993 and 1997, there was a 12 percent drop in the number of shots fired by cops (1193 to 1040). There was a 52 percent drop, however, in shots fired "by perpetrators" (565 to 268) during the same four years. The number of perps who discharged weapons fell from 153 to 82, a 46 percent decline.
E In 1993, perpetrators were armed with guns in 59 percent of the incidents listed in the report, which covers any discharges by either cops or perps. In 1997, perps had guns only 38 percent of the time. Perps had weapons of some sort in 97 percent of 1993 cases, but only 81 percent in 1997.
E Shots fired by cops in each of the first three Giuliani years exceeded Dinkins's last year, reaching a 1995 high of 535 more than 1993, even though shots fired by perps fell by almost 50 percent in the first Giuliani year and stayed near that low level. As with police killings, shots fired by cops did not begin to dip until 1997.
The data demonstrates that it was the perpetratorswho were getting more restrained under Giuliani, and that the cops slowly adapted to more peaceful times on the streets.
Similarly, the slight decline in police killings between 1993 and 1998 is hardly a mark of Giuliani-NYPD restraint when juxtaposed with the murder rate, a statistical correlation that held, in broad terms, for decades prior to the Rise of Rudy. Take 1985 for example. In the middle of the Koch years, murders suddenly fell to a decade and a half low of 1392, and police killings hit 11, a modern record. Yet, while murders last year were a mere 629, less than half the 1985 total, the 19 cop killings almost doubled the '85 figure.
The murder rate dropped almost 14 percent under Dinkins and police killings 44 percent. Murders plunged 69 percent under Giuliani, yet deadly police force only dipped 13 percent. Giuliani can be counted on to never give his self-serving assertions this kind of context, under oath or not.
While Tom Ognibene and his six GOP colleagues on the city council rushed to the ramparts on Rudy's behalf last week, suggesting incredibly that whites had more to fear from the NYPD than blacks, no white Democrats have dared blame Giuliani policies for Diallo or any other police misconduct.
A Voicequestionnaire that asked if the mayor's policies had "anything to do with the worsening of the problem" or, indeed, if the problem had gotten worse, drew tepid responses from Mark Green, Alan Hevesi, Peter Vallone, Chuck Schumer, and Shelly Silver, the five most powerful white Democrats.
Green came closest to drawing a connection, but after running through a critical litany of Giuliani actions (from blocking an independent police commission to trashing the report of his own brutality task force), he stopped short of ascribing any concrete consequences to this record. Green also put out a timeline of his own actions on police misconduct, demonstrating he's been distinctively out front for years. Giuliani, on the other hand, "lacks credibility on the issue," he said, "and has contributed to divisiveness."