What They Don’t Tell You About NYC Crime Data

NYPD Traffic Enforcement Units on Times Square...

Any study on “safety” would always be subjective.  What is “safe?”  It is a feeling, not a fact.  It is relative, and highly impacted by the media’s reporting of crimes- both near and far.  Looking at the NYPD’s crime reporting, it appears that the numbers and the rhetoric don’t always match up.

When the Village Voice ran an investigative piece with the help of NYPD officer Adrian Schoolcraft, it launched a general disbelief in the data being generated.  The incentive to downgrade serious crimes, while Stop & Frisk increases petty crimes, serves as a justification for “Broken Windows” tactics.  Criminologist John Eterno (former NYPD Captain) explains that the manipulation is systemic and not confined to Schoolcraft’s 81st Precinct.  The New York Times recently ran a study of 2,000 former police officials and found the same.

The manipulation of data is not confined to the NYPD.  Police in Memphis, Nashville, and Millwaukee, and Ft. Myers have all either been accused of or admitted to this illusion of success.  Some police have conducted their own audits and explained that there was no clear intent to mislead the public.  The broader issue is whether criminologists can trust the data they are given for analysis, and whether crime rates are reliable as a method of gauging public safety. High crime data contributed to NYPD receiving federal funding through the COPS program, and then a reduction of that funding when the data was reduced.

Claimed Benefits (Crime Reduction) Is Not Supported by Data

It appears that police policy has no correlation to violent crime stats; only to petty crime stats.  For example, as Stop & Frisk intensifies, crime rates do not fluctuate accordingly.  Violent crime is immune to increased patrolling, while petty crimes such as marijuana possession, obstruction of justice, and open container summons will increase due to police contact.  If policing were reflective of criminal activity, we could assume that White residents on the Upper West Side do not smoke marijuana, unlike Black and Latino residents of East New York.  Or, only Black and Latino people in the West Village drink in open containers.

Murder rates are a salacious, inaccurate, and commonly used indicator of overall crime.  They are generally reported prior to a conviction, often prior to a full investigation, and sometimes prior to an arrest.  Homicides represent less than 1% of crimes.   If the media reports there were 1000 murders last year, what they truly mean is 1000 people were killed in ways where it was not immediately justified and cleared.  There may be only 600 arrests, and they may be sitting on Rikers Island.  100 of them may have viable defenses.  100 may have plead guilty already, while 50 others may be wrongfully convicted.  With such a small sample, a murder rate can fluctuate with every single incident.

Comparing Crime Rates of 10 Largest Cities

Looking at NYC as a whole, in isolation, does little to inform the public as to the effectiveness of the police force.  Crime has come down from the peak of the eighties and nineties, and back to levels of the 1970’s.  However, this is a long-recognized national trend.  By comparing NYC to the nine other largest American cities, we see that there is nothing particularly special about the Big Apple.  This assumes, of course, that data reported to the Bureau of Justice Statistics is compiled in the same manner by each police department.

  • NYC has a similar violent crime rate to Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Antonio.[4]
  • NYC has had the lowest property crime rate since 1995, and had negligible reductions during the examined Stop & Frisk era.[5]
  • From 2002-2010, there has been virtually no change in the NYC murder rate, while Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas continue their reductions.  In 2010, San Diego the lowest rate, with NYC equal to San Antonio, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.[6]
  • Forcible rape statistics continue to be perhaps the most under-reported crime, and NYC has consistently had the lowest reported rate.  From 1998 – 2009, NYC reduced at a rate greater than the national average, yet now is facing an increase.[7]
  • Although NYC had the highest robbery rate between 1985- 1990, it joined the middle of the pack in 2000, and in 2010 is similar to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Antonio.[8]
  • The aggravated assault rate has risen since 2008, and NYC sits similar to, Dallas. Phoenix and San Diego are slightly lower, with Los Angeles at the bottom (tied with the national average).[9]
  • There has been virtually no change in the larceny-theft rate since 2002, and is now tied with Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Diego.[10]

NYC Crime has Gone UP!

Illustrating the allegations that NYPD has downgraded criminal reports to show a decrease in crime, observe these inter-related crimes:

  1. Misd and FelonyFelony Possession of Stolen Property has gone down while Misdemeanor Possession of Stolen Property has gone up;
  2. Felony Sex Crimes has gone down while Misdemeanor Sex Crimes has gone up.

2005 to 2011, by the Numbers- Drug Crimes Increase

Since the dawn of the Commissioner Kelly Stop and Frisk era, total crimes are down 2%.[11]  Meanwhile, total drug crimes have increased:

Drug Crime NYC


As Misdemeanor drug crimes increase, felony drug crimes decrease.  Does this reflect a reporting change?  Enforcement change?  Usage change?  A further example of trying to match data with reality can be found in Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD’s challenging relationship with marijuana, and improperly arresting people who should be given citations only.

Do you believe, that catching people’s personal supply is impacting your safety?  Some do, and they are willing to pay billions of dollars to reinforce that policy.  Others are not at all convinced.

On a final statistical note:

Grand Larceny of an Auto has been reduced 380% since 2001.  It just so happens that manufacturing changes have drastically altered the ability to steal a car.  The police should not be blamed for everything, particularly where crime is related to many factors such as economics, social services, family stability, mental health treatment, and substance abuse (among other factors).  And to the same end, they should not be taking too much credit.

Read Part One of the series relating to Floyd v. New York City: “Crashing the System with Stop and Frisk.” 

Up Next: “Comparing the Precincts:  Is the data plain as Black and White?”

See alsoRevolt of the Gatekeepers

FICPM Statement on Stop and Frisk

[4] Figure 1.  NYC peaked in 1990, and follows a similar trajectory with L.A. and Dallas.  They had nearly the same rate: three highest in America’s large cities.  Dramatic reductions from 1993- 2000.  Reductions from 2002-2010 are minimal; far less than Dallas and L.A., and comparable to reductions in Houston and the national average.  Philly, Houston, and Las Vegas are the new top three, but modestly higher.Violent Crime Rate

[5] Figure 2.  NYC peaked in 1988, in the bottom third of the pack (tied with Dallas).  Chicago and San Antonio were the outlying highest.  Greatest reduction came from 1993-2000.  In 1994, NYC was tied with Philly as the lowest rate, and has become the lowest of all ten major cities; lower than the national average.  Reductions between 2002-10 are negligible, less than the national average, Dallas, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.  In 2010, Los Angeles and San Diego are also below the national average.Property Crime Rate

[6] Figure 3.  NYC peaked in 1990, tied with Chicago and Philly, less than Houston and Dallas.  Dramatic reduction came in 1993-1998, and has practically mirrored the national average since.    Philadelphia began the era in the middle of the pack, but is now the highest by virtue of having made no real gains; they are still far below the 1990-92 norm.Murder Rate

[7] Figure 4.  NYC is highest in 1985, yet with the lowest figure than all cities but San Diego.  Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio realized the greatest reductions, yet began at the top of the list.  Los Angeles and Phoenix reduced at a rate similar to NYC.    Philadelphia has had little impact in this area, and now is the nation’s highest by virtue of standing still.  The Rape and Murder rates have reduced at a similar pace, with rape traditionally being close to double that of murder; however, the percentage points have narrowed from 34 to 6 over the time span.Forcible Rape Rate

[8] Figure 5.  NYC peaked in 1990, and followed a similar trajectory downward as did Chicago and Los Angeles.  The sharpest decline came in 1991 – 2000.  San Diego and the national average are lower.Robbery Rate

[9] Figure 6.  NYC peaked in 1988, when it was tied with Dallas behind Los Angeles and Chicago (the latter three cities all peaked in 1991).  The sharpest reduction came between 1994 and 1996, when it entered the middle of the field.Agg. Assault Rate

[10] Figure 7.  NYC peaked in 1988, at a rate similar to Houston, San Diego, Chicago, and Las Vegas.  Dallas and San Antonio were much higher.  The sharpest decline came between 1993- 1996.  Since 1994, when tied with Philadelphia, NYC has been the lowest rate and below the national average.  Philadelphia and Houston have seen the least changes, while San Antonio remains high despite the major decline.Larceny Theft Rate

[11] Based on NYPD reported data from their categories: Seven Major Felonies, Non-Seven Major Felonies, and Total Misdemeanors.

About Bruce Reilly

Bruce Reilly is the Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender in New Orleans, LA. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School and author of NewJack's Guide to the Big House. Much of his writing can be found on www.Unprison.org.
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