Crime in New York City Falls to Lowest Level Since 1950s

Police recruits being sworn in at Madison Square Garden in October. Crime in New York City has declined for 27 straight years, even as police officers use less deadly force and make fewer arrests.
Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It would have seemed unbelievable in 1990, when there were 2,245 killings in New York City, but as of Wednesday there have been just 286 in the city this year — the lowest since reliable records have been kept.

In fact, crime has fallen in New York City in each of the major felony categories — murder and manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand larceny, and car thefts — to a total of 94,806 as of Sunday, well below the previous record low of 101,716 set last year.

If the trend holds just a few more days, this year’s homicide total will be under the city’s previous low of 333 in 2014, and crime will have declined for 27 straight years, to levels that police officials have said are the lowest since the 1950s. The numbers, when taken together, portray a city of 8.5 million people growing safer even as the police, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, use less deadly force, make fewer arrests and scale back controversial practices like stopping and frisking thousands of people on the streets.

“There is no denying that the arc is truly exceptional in the unbroken streak of declining crime,” said William J. Bratton, who retired from his second stint as police commissioner last year.

But officials see one area of concern: an uptick in reports of rapes toward the end of the year. The increase, which officials said included a higher-than-normal number of attacks that occurred more than one year ago, coincided with the publication of accusations against powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, which gave rise to the #MeToo movement encouraging victims to come forward. City police officials have said they believed news coverage played a role in the spike in reports, though they also credited their own efforts combating domestic violence with encouraging victims to speak up.

And while rapes were down from last year by one, to 1,417, misdemeanor sex crimes — a catchall for various types of misconduct that includes groping — ticked up 9.3 percent to 3,585 so far.

The lower homicide numbers are still preliminary — and include one announced on Wednesday night — but they jibe with large drops in killings in major cities like Chicago and Detroit, while contrasting with sizable increases in killings in smaller cities like Charlotte and Baltimore.

The city today is a far cry from what it was when Mr. Bratton arrived in 1990 to become the head of the then-separate Transit Police. Not only were there 2,245 killings that year, but there were more than 527,000 major felony crimes and more than 5,000 people shot. Shootings have plunged to 774 so far this year, well below last year’s record low of 998. And for the first time, fewer than 1,000 people have been hurt by gunfire: 917 as of Sunday.

The continued declines are a boon to Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat elected on promises of police reform — promises that prompted warnings of mayhem to come by his opponents in 2013. But the opposite has happened, putting him on stronger footing as he pivots to a second term with a Police Department transformed to exercise greater restraint as it focuses on building trust in the city’s neighborhoods.

Franklin E. Zimring, a professor at University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said the downturn was an “astounding achievement,” but it raised another question: How long and low will crime fall?

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: NY Times, Ashley Southall