Turning Away From Success

A new book, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence, by Patrick Sharkey, acknowledges the role that policing and incarceration played in the great crime decline—then argues that we should abandon that approach.

American policymakers have often responded to big problems with declarations of war—on poverty, on drugs, and on terror, to mention three well-known examples. The outcomes of those efforts have been mixed, but one policy war that has met with far greater success over the last generation is the war on crime. Yet that victory, says sociologist Patrick Sharkey in his new book, is “tainted,” and the peace that so many now enjoy “uneasy.” It’s a puzzling thesis, especially since, in his thorough and well-written account, Sharkey chronicles how far urban crime has declined, what brought the decline about, and the many ways in which America’s most vulnerable urban residents benefited. Though he acknowledges the contributions of policing and incarceration to what he calls “one of the most important social trends to hit cities over the past several decades,” Sharkey nevertheless argues that we should now “turn the streets over to advocates” and abandon the practices that helped so many cities find peace and prosperity.