Was the gas in their cars better at fighting crime than the officers inside?

PLUMB CRAZY: The Secret History of Cops, Cars and Crime in America (2018, 60 pages) Read now in print or ebook.

For most of the twentieth century, leaded gas was sold in the USA. Lead is hazardous to your mental and physical health. Meanwhile, America was facing an urban crime wave, and people were moving to the safe suburbs. Twenty years after the introduction of unleaded gas in 1975, crime began to fall. The police were rewarded with tougher laws and military gear, and the prison population more than doubled.

PLUMB CRAZY: The Secret History of Cops, Cars and Crime in America tells the little known story of unleaded gas and the ‘90s crime drop.

An excerpt:

A Tale of Two Blackouts

“He’s planning to clean up the city…his way!”
-Promotional tagline for Death Wish


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Charles Bronson was an urban vigilante in Death Wish.

The bad old days
In 1974, when Charles Bronson starred in Death Wish, about a vigilante seeking revenge for his murdered family, the movie portrayed a New York City gone insane. After a couple decades of ‘white flight’ to the safety of the suburbs emptied America’s cities of the middle class, the movie showed an urban hell. New York City was a bombed out wasteland where the only people left were criminals and victims. But Bronson wasn’t going to take it anymore. Instead, he would get just as vicious as the bad guys, and take them out on his own.

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New York during the first blackout.

1977: Riots, looting and mass arrests
On July 13, 1977, New York City had a blackout that lasted 25 hours. That night, 1,600 stores and businesses were looted. In the darkness, the police did little to stop the criminals, but when the sun came up, they arrested 3,700 suspects, and the city entered a new era of ‘tough on crime’ policing that it is still enjoying today.


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New York the evening of the second blackout.

Twenty-five years later, a romantic candlelit holiday
On August 14, 2003, there was another power outage in NYC. With the lights out, 40,000 of New York’s finest were mobilized to control the mayhem, but not much happened. “We just had a magical day,” said one survivor to the NY Post. In fact, the NYPD reported that there was less crime on the evening of the blackout than the same night a year earlier.
Those tens of thousands of police officers must have really made a difference, right?


Do you have a story of how scary cities were back in the 1970s and ‘80s? Post it online with the hashtag #PlumbCrazy.

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