When people ask me what it is that I most take pride in from my time as governor, they are often surprised at the answer. It wasn't New Yorkers' strength in the wake of 9/11, or the million acres of open space that we preserved, or even lower taxes.
It was the radical transformation of the criminal-justice landscape in New York.
In 1995, when I came into office, violent crime was at an epidemic level statewide. New York was the nation's sixth most violent state, and with Mayor Rudy Giuliani just a year into his first term, New York City was still deemed ungovernable and unsafe.
The causes were junk justice, soft criminal-justice policies, weak penalties and, most importantly, a mindset that stood common sense on its head.
The common orthodoxy at the time was to empathize with the criminals, believing that the only way to reduce crime was by addressing its root causes - unemployment, drug use, broken families.
I believed then, as I believe now, that the root causes of crime, especially violent crime, are criminals, and they belong behind bars.
As the debate rages on over the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactics, it saddens me to see those same old patterns of behavior coming from both the bench and from policy makers in Albany.
Judges releasing criminals caught with illegal weapons; Albany policymakers loosening parole standards and reducing criminal penalties. These trends threaten to turn back the clock to a time when people feared to leave their homes and criminals ruled the streets.
Policies matter. Eliminating parole for violent offenders and establishing mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession made the city and state safer. Appointing judges with common sense made the streets safer.
Stop-and-frisk isn't everything, but it's an essential tool for America's best police force.
People have come to take an ever-lowering crime rate for granted - a fact of life, like the sunrise. But ever-lower crime doesn't just happen; it's the result of affirmative decisions and leadership by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that built on the framework that Mayor Giuliani and I left behind.
When I left office, New York was America's seventh-safest state and the safest large state. Today, New York City is the country's safest big city, and this year it's still on track to have a record low number of murders.
The city's come too far over the past two decades to turn its back on strategies that have helped save thousands of lives.
Stop-and-frisk works, and it should stay in place.
George E. Pataki was New York's governor from 1995-to 2005.