In a story ripped from the headlines, blogger Matthew Belinkie from Overthinking It has released a comprehensive review of the success/failure rate from the first 10 seasons of Law & Order. Far from being mere fan fodder for those that wiled away so much of their lives on the series, Belinkie has some startling observations to make about the show and the city that spawned it.
First up: the basics. The chart above breaks down the guilty/not guilty/plea/other outcomes of each episode. Right away you can see a steady progression of success followed by a sharp decline and equally sharp rise in success over the first five seasons.
The success rate started high, went higher, and then plummeted to a bleak 59% in the 1993 season. That means in 2 out of every 5 episodes that year, the bad guy got away with it.
What Belinke does next is add some cultural context to those stats, with surprising results.
This second chart overlays the Law & Order data with actual New York City crime statistics. The correlation may not be clear at first, but the decline in crime and the steadying L&O success rate match very closely. Belinke’s final thrust is to point out that the election of Rudolph Giuliani occurred in 1993. His thesis, and it is quite convincing, is that the unprecedented murder rate in New York prompted the sudden decline in L&O successes. Giuliani’s election in 1993 and famous “broken windows” police enforcement strategy sends the L&O rate way up, peaking on the same year when the New York crime rate took a dive.
Belinke’s data is pretty convincing, but keep in mind that this is only from the first half of the series. We’ll have to wait and see what conclusions can be drawn from developments in the latter half of the series, and whether or not they still reflect the New York zeitgeist continues in to the 21st century. It could be that a 75% success rate proved to be the most crowd pleasing, which would be disappointing since hugely tummultous events centered around New York — such as the September 11 attacks and 2008 economic collapse — aren’t in this timeline.
Belinke has made his data publicly available on Overthinking It, so if you’ve got some time to kill and have an unseemly attraction to Excel, dive in and see what new patterns you can find.
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