N.Y. Crime Stats Hit New Low, But Residents Say They Don't Feel It

Dec 29, 2015
Originally published on January 3, 2016 10:10 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

New York City is on track to end the year with crime rates lower than the previous year. In fact, the city is the safest it's been in modern history. But NPR's Joel Rose reports that many New Yorkers say they don't feel any safer.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Eleven-hundred of the New York Police Department's newest officers celebrate under a shower of confetti today on the floor of Madison Square Garden.

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ROSE: The mood was strikingly different from the graduation ceremony a year ago. Back then, two NYPD policemen had just been shot. At their funerals, scores of officers turned their backs on Mayer Bill de Blasio. And what followed was a major slowdown in the number of summonses and tickets issued across the department. Still, after all that, crime in New York City kept dropping.

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BILL DE BLASIO: The NYPD keeps setting records. The NYPD keeps going farther.

ROSE: Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out some numbers to back up his point. According to NYPD statistics, overall crime is down about 2 percent this year. Shootings are down, too. Murders edged up slightly, but they're still near the all-time lows set last year.

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DE BLASIO: We're not going back to the bad old days. And the reason we're not going back to the bad old days is all of you.

ROSE: But no matter how often the mayor repeats this message - and he does repeat it - not everyone feels safer. According to polls, the number of New Yorkers who think crime is a serious problem is going up, not down. Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute. She thinks that's partly a result of the record number of homeless people.

HEATHER MAC DONALD: There has been a documented increase in street vagrancy over the last year. And that gives people a sense that public order and law and order is breaking down.

ROSE: The NYPD has cut back drastically on the number of people it stops and frisks without a warrant and the number of low-level summonses it hands out. Critics predicted that would lead to a spike in crime. That did not happen. But former police commissioner Ray Kelly, a staunch advocate of stop-and-frisk, says you can't always trust the statistics.

RAY KELLY: You have to take a hard look at those numbers. And I can tell you people don't feel safer in this city.

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ROSE: In a radio interview with AM 970 that's scheduled to air next month, Kelly says the NYPD might be manipulating the numbers.

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KELLY: I think there's some redefinition going on as to what amounts to a shooting.

ROSE: It's worth noting that critics leveled similar charges against the NYPD when he was commissioner. Ray Kelly rejected the charge then. And his successor, Police Commissioner William Bratton, rejects it now.

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WILLIAM BRATTON: My cops work hard, very hard, to reduce gun violence in this city. So for him to denigrate that hard work that has resulted in shootings being reduced significantly in this city and claim in some fashion that we're playing with the numbers, shame on him.

ROSE: Bratton says crime is on the way down while morale at the NYPD is on the rise. And few would have predicted that combination at the beginning of the year. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.