Do you remember the bloody year of 1999? I don’t. But the FBI says the number of murders in New York City rose 6 percent that year. How about scary 2006, when the number of killings jumped 10.6 percent? Do you recall the fear with which we all tiptoed through 2008, when the city saw a 5 percent rise in slayings? Don’t get that mixed up with 2010, when the city reported a 14 percent increase in murders.
Somehow, “Bloody Ninety-Nine” didn’t smudge Rudy Giuliani’s reputation as America’s greatest crimefighter. Nor did the four increases in the annual murder count during Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office dent his image as a cool and competent manager. In fact, none of these significant spikes in bloodshed triggered the kind of public concern about crime now gripping columnists and some elected officials.
“The decline in the city’s quality of life is growing more pronounced,” opined New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin in today’s editions. “Crime is spiking often enough to be more than a fluke — witness the eight murders over just two days — and more ordinary forms of disorder are consistently visible. It’s beyond dispute that the city is abdicating its responsibility to act.”
Is it? Murders are up 5 percent so far this year. Rapes and robberies are also running higher. Burglary, grand larceny, car theft and felony assault are down. Overall crime is running 4 percent lower than 2014. Shootings are about even with what occurred over the same period last year.
None of those are happy numbers – every killing, rape or beating is a horror for the people and families affected – but they don’t appear to indicate a city falling apart at the seams.
Of course, some would argue that we shouldn’t let statistics dominate this discussion. Comptroller Scott Stringer is one. “The debate in this city has gotten way too complicated for me. Because as we mourn the losses, the debate’s going to be ‘which week was safer?’ ‘What month did the statistics go down?’ When you’re saying ‘We had the biggest, safest summer in history,’ well, when you go out and talk to the parents and the grandparents, they don’t want to hear that,” he said Monday. “If you’re the mother and a grandmother of a lost child, you don’t want to hear about statistics any more. We’ve got to elevate this discussion.”
That’s a heck of an idea. But the comptroller’s critique was a little selective. The reason City Hall and One Police Plaza talk so much about the felony statistics is because their critics keep making claims about crime that have virtually no basis in fact. The city’s “safest summer” boast was necessary because some commentators insist on taking every instance of gunplay as proof that Bill de Blasio is steering the city straight back to 1975.
Indeed, if de Blasio is guilty of politicizing the actual crime statistics, it’s mainly because his opponents are guilty of politicizing the imaginary crime stats they derive from news headlines, gut instinct and their pre-written narrative that de Blasio is really just John Lindsay standing on his tip-toes.
To be fair, de Blasio haters didn’t start this. The transformation of crime statistics from a important but limited indicator into a political football began more than two decades ago, when David Dinkins was mayor, and increased in intensity during the Giuliani years. Over his time in office, Bloomberg pointed to the crime stats often as proof of his solid leadership; when the numbers rose, he and his many admirers explained that year-to-year movements shouldn’t obscure the broader story of a generally safer city. They were right. But de Blasio hasn’t been afforded that nuance.
It would be a huge accomplishment if we could all move beyond treating the crime numbers as some sort of month-to-month scoreboard – for de Blasio versus Bloomberg, for community policing versus stop-and-frisk, for the 20-year pissing match between Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton. That starts with looking at what the numbers have shown us over time: many decreases, a few upticks and no evidence that any mayor has abdicated his duty to the city.
|Year||Murder||Rape||Robbery||Aggravated Assault||Burglary||Larceny||Auto theft|
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Statistics