The Peacemaker

Description: New York Times, June 1, 2005

The Peacemaker
By Olle Wastberg

TODAY I will send a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee nominating the former mayor of New York City, Rudolph W. Giuliani, for the Nobel PeacePrize. As a former member of the Swedish Parliament I have the right to submit nominees – in the past I nominated Elie Wiesel, who won in 1986 – and I selected Mr. Giuliani because I believe that he has, through his political efforts, saved more human lives than most people alive today.

Mr. Giuliani took office in 1994, when the city was rife with gang violence,rundown neighbourhoods, robbery, graffiti and litter. The police had lost the daily battle against serious crime. The mayor brought with him a policy of rethinking the fight against crime – a policy that proved to be effective even after he left office: a quick comparison of crime rates collected by the Police Department in 1993 with those from last year show that murders went down by 76.2 percent; rapes by 41.1 percent; robberies by 74.2 percent;assaults by 57.5 percent; burglaries by 77.3 percent; grand larcenies by45.7 percent; and car thefts by 84.5 percent.

Or, in more human terms, it would appear that over the last 12 years the policies Mr. Giuliani put in place have spared New York perhaps 10,000murders, 15,000 rapes and 800,000 robberies. This is clearly a humanitarian accomplishment of great magnitude.

In my letter to Oslo, I stress that the Giuliani administration’s crime policy was unique in two ways. First was its concentration on crime prevention rather than arrests. I was invited to several statistics-review meetings in which the mayor and his commissioners examined crime trends with the Police Department’s top officers. Interestingly, these police chiefs were primarily held responsible for the number of crimes reported rather than for the percentage of crimes solved. A chief who did not keep crime statistics low risked losing his job. The other unique contribution was the campaign against so-called quality-of-life crimes. The theory is that if an area becomes rundown, if young men are allowed to urinate against walls, if graffiti proliferate, then the public’s sense of security will deteriorate.The need for security guards and surveillance cameras increases, and society as a whole becomes more closed. The trust necessary in a modern society requires vigilance against such crimes that disturb the peace.

Thus, for example, the Police Department’s successful effort under Mr.Giuliani to reduce robberies and graffiti in the subway was based on catching turnstile jumpers. The theory was that a person who planned to spray-paint subway cars or rob passengers would not buy a ticket. Stopping the jumpers thus cut down on other crimes. New York’s quick recovery as a tourism destination after Sept. 11, 2001, despite the remaining terrorist threat, can be attributed to awareness that New York had become one of the world’s safest cities.

Is all of this solely to Mr. Giuliani’s credit? No, far from it. His policy was based on the scientific work of the sociologists James Q. Wilson andGeorge L. Kelling, who also served as mayoral advisers. Mr. Giuliani’s first police commissioner, William Bratton, played a central role. But it is RudyGiuliani who personified the policy, took significant political risks and consistently supported a considerably demoralized police force.

Mr. Giuliani’s detractors like to claim that his crime-prevention program unduly harmed racial minorities and increased tensions among the city’s ethnic groups. This perception is largely false: most victims of crime inNew York were and are members of minority groups; gang violence among WallStreet bankers is a rare thing. The people who suffer most from an ineffectual police force are poor people in bad residential areas, and they gained the most from Mr. Giuliani’s successes.

Another common objection is that ”crime just moved somewhere else.” This,too, is not true. The number of reported crimes decreased more or less consistently in all 123 police districts. And while the substantial drop in the use of crack and other drugs since the early 90’s may be attributable to many factors, including AIDS and the nation’s economic boom, there is no denying that police intervention was a major one.

The Nobel Peace Prize long ago freed itself from the directives of AlfredNobel’s will, in which the focus was on contributions of the international peace conferences of that time. It now often goes to people like MotherTeresa and last year’s winner, Wangari Maathai, who have made humanitarian contributions. The civic actions symbolized by Rudolph W. Giuliani deserve equal recognition.

Olle Wastberg was consul general of Sweden to New York City from 1999 to 2004.