Who’s to Blame for Politicizing NYC’s Crime Statistics?

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Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton.

City Hall

Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton.


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
CY95 1,177 2,374 59,280 52,322 73,889 183,037 72,679
CY96 983 2,332 49,670 45,674 61,270 162,246 60,380
CY97 770 2,157 44,707 45,229 54,099 157,039 51,892
CY98 633 2,046 39,359 43,853 46,185 147,018 44,056
CY99 671 1,702 36,100 40,511 40,469 140,377 39,693
CY00 673 1,630 32,562 40,880 37,112 139,664 35,847
CY01 649 1,530 28,202 37,893 31,563 133,938 29,989
CY02 587 1,689 27,229 34,334 30,102 129,655 27,034
CY03 597 1,609 25,989 31,253 28,293 124,846 23,628
CY04 570 1,428 24,373 29,317 26,100 124,016 21,072
CY05 539 1,412 24,722 27,950 23,210 120,918 18,381
CY06 596 1,071 23,511 26,908 22,137 115,363 15,936
CY07 496 875 21,787 27,295 20,914 115,318 13,256
CY08 523 890 22,186 24,831 19,867 117,682 12,440
CY09 471 832 18,597 26,457 18,780 112,526 10,694
CY10 536 1,036 19,608 27,309 17,926 111,370 10,319
CY11 515 1,092 19,773 29,829 18,159 112,864 9,434
CY12 419 1,162 20,201 31,211 18,635 115,935 8,190
CY13 335 1,112 19,170 31,767 16,606 117,931 7,434

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Statistics

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