The Changing Face of Crime in New York City

Basil Wilson's picture

Most criminologists did not foresee the great crime decline of the 1990s which, in terms of violent crime, continued into the twenty-first century.  The decline is evident when one examines the macro-data but as we have seen in Ferguson County, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, the decline has been uneven. In areas of concentrated poverty, citizens living in those communities are oblivious to what Prof. Franklin Zimring and others have called the great crime decline.

Over the weekend of May 16-17, there was a shootout of rival motorcycle gangs that have left 9 people dead, 18 wounded and over 160 arrested in Waco, Texas.  The shootout necessitated law enforcement in that community to close the bar and restaurant where the shooting occurred for seven days.

Since the 1990s, what has occurred in New York City has constituted a fascinating study of the criminal justice system.  Former Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg and Police Commissioners Safire and Kelly would attribute New York City’s crime drop to “hard policing”.  Commissioner Bratton in his initial appointment to lead NYPD under Mayor Rudy Giuliani referred to community policing as “soft policing” and at the time was a true believer in zero tolerance and broken windows.

Bill Bratton in his second incarnation has taken a far more sophisticated view of policing and now places heavy emphasis on improving community relations in African American and Hispanic communities.

Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform that he would change the unconstitutional nature of stops and frisk.  Under his mayoralty, there has been a significant decline in the number of stop and frisks. 

The previous Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg were obstinate in their approach to stop and frisk which they argued was indispensable to the war on crime. The class action suit against stop and frisk was judged by Shira Scheindlin to be used unconstitutionally before an Appeals Court threw out the ruling.  The New York City Council had already stepped in and legislated that an Inspector General should monitor the practices of the New York City Police Department.  In any case the new Mayor and Commissioner have imposed a modification of police practices.

An examination of Compstat reveals interesting crime statistics for 2015 up to the first week in May.  There were 333 murders in 2014.  Thus far this year, there are 109 murders in 2015 in comparison to 99 at this juncture last year, an increase of slightly more than 10 percent.  There has also been an uptick in rape, an increase in 2015 by 7.9 percent.  Robberies have continued their downward trend and a similar decline in felonious assaults, burglary and grand larceny.  Nonetheless, there has been an increase in shooting victims and recorded shooting incidents.

There has been an increase of shooting victims by 8.9 percent and shooting incidents by 8.7 percent.

There is normal accelerated violence in the summer months.  NYPD, as was the case last summer, will examine the Precincts where that increase is likely to occur and deploy the necessary resources to contain the gun related violence in the streets.

Violence should not just be the business of the police.  For example, Jacobi Medical Center with resources provided by Senator Jeffery Klein, has established a Stand Up to Violence (SUV) Program in the Bronx.  The SUV Program works with Violence Interrupters who are knowledgeable about the neighborhoods.  When a victim of violence enters the hospital, the victim is treated for his/her wounds.  In addition, matters pertaining to the nature of the violence are analyzed and the Violence Interrupters intervene to reduce the possibility of retaliation.  The estimation is that once a shooting victim enters the hospital, if there is no intervention, that individual will be dead in five years.

The SUV Program in the three years of its existence has expanded into more communities in the Bronx.  City Councilmember, Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the City Council Public Safety Committee is a strong advocate of these intervention programs and is working to maximize resources for this purpose in the 2015-2016 City Budget.
At a public forum held at Monroe College, Bronx Campus on Thursday, May 14, 2015 titled “Stand Up to Violence in the Bronx This Summer”, representatives from the Jacobi Medical Center, elected officials and leader of nongovernmental organizations came together to share and assess the efficacy of the Stand Up to Violence Program.

New York City has led the country in the crime decline that began in the 1990s and in the case of New York City has continued to the present.  The City has also been instrumental in the closing of prisons upstate and the census at Rikers Island is unprecedentedly low.  Citizens on Probation and Parole have also dropped precipitously as documented in a Vera Institute study by Michael Jacobson and James Austin.

The question is what extent are the efforts of the State Assembly and the State Senate, the City Council and NYPD initiatives co-ordinated or are the entities functioning like silos?

When Compstat was introduced by Bill Bratton in the 1990s, law enforcement personnel from all over the world attended those sessions on Compstat held at One Police Plaza.  In recent years, that outcome assessment of precinct commanders has been closed to the public.  Nonetheless, Compstat data are still available to scholars and to the public.

The forum at Monroe College brought together many of the stakeholders concerned with violence in the Bronx.  But the fight against violence should be a five borough project and should be approached by elected officials and civil society in a more systematic manner.  These anti-violent initiatives are saving lives and we must ensure that a high level of citywide coordination with the necessary resources are put in place to ensure the continuity of what the John Jay College criminologist, Prof Andrew Karmen calls the New York Miracle.