Now that Mike Bloomberg has departed from the scene, we might want to look more closely at his signature achievement, namely, the notion that he turned New York City into a crime-free zone. There’s been a lot of give and take on this one, particularly because much of the alleged decrease in violent crime was believed to be the product of a too aggressive, stop-and-frisk strategy employed by the NYPD. But while civil libertarians and criminologists bat that one back and forth, I prefer to spend a little time analyzing the numbers that have been produced by Bloomberg’s administration to bolster the claims that New York is now a very safe town.
But before I get into the numbers, it’s important to understand that while New York contains more than 8 million people, this immense population lives in five very distinct boroughs which, if we throw them all together and only talk about the city as a whole, we end up with a picture that bears little relation to the circumstances in which most city residents actually live. Because crime is the most potent barometer for judging what’s called “quality of life,” if people feel physically secure they tend to consider themselves better off even if their material circumstances are not what they would like. On the other hand, when people feel insecure and threatened by their environment, no degree of physical amenities can restore their sense of well-being or mitigate their fears that things just aren’t right.
Enter the Bloomberg numbers machine. According to his numbers, violent crime continues to decline in New York, with homicides, the most visible of all violent crimes, being reduced to the lowest level in more than thirty years. The drop has been seen in every category of violent crime, and it has been going on far longer than any expert would ever predict. Even the noted criminologist Frank Zimring, who recently wrote a book about the decline in NYC crime, recently admitted that the decline was even greater than what he predicted might occur.
But there’s only one little problem. If you look at crime stats on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, it’s clear that in many parts of the city people aren’t safe at all and worse, the drop in violent crime in some areas, particularly the wealthiest parts of the city, has been so steep that it tends to mask a much more severe problem in other parts of town. For example, according to the FBI, the national rate for the four crime categories that comprise violent crime stands right now at 386.9 incidents per 100,000 people. There are neighborhoods in New York City where the violent crime rate is more than three times as high. The national murder rate in 2012 was 4.7, but in Brooklyn’s Brownsville right now it’s 15.1. Forcible rape is 26.9 nationally but it’s higher in the Morrissania section of The Bronx and nearly double in Brownsville and “Do or Die’ Bed-Stuy.
Want to live in a crime-free zone? Buy a two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s West End Avenue complete with cockroaches for only $2.5 million and you’ll live without fear. The 20th Precinct, which covers the trendy area around Lincoln Center, has a violent crime rate of 123.5, less than one-third the national rate, and has yet to see a single homicide in 2013, unless you want to count the night that I ate dinner at Mort Zuckerman’s Masa restaurant and got stuck with the check. But seriously, if you take the crime numbers for the West and East Sides of Manhattan, they go a long way to help flatten out ghetto crime numbers from Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.
Much of the criticism about Bloomberg’s tenure centered on the degree to which he lavished attention and concern on Manhattan but never got involved in what happened to areas where his wealthy friends didn’t happen to reside. There’s no question that crime rates in even the worst NYC neighborhoods nosedived in the 1990’s as they did nationwide. But to continue hiding behind crime stats for Manhattan simply shortchanges the rest of New York City and everyone, no matter where they live, deserves a life free from crime.
- NYPD’s top cop Ray Kelly ends historic second stint (nydailynews.com)