Wall Street Journal New York City Summer Is Safest in Years, Records Show by Josh Dawsey and Pervaiz Shallwani

Wall Street Journal
New York City Summer Is Safest in Years, Records Show
Josh Dawsey and Pervaiz Shallwani
09/02/2015

Top officials in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said Wednesday that this summer has been the safest in decades as they tried to stem worries that crime is rising and quality of life is falling in New York City.

“I think we’re trending towards another very successful year in maintaining very low crime rates and disorder in the city,” Police Commissioner William Bratton said during a briefing at 1 Police Plaza.

Between June and August there were 82 homicides and 345 shootings in the five boroughs, the lowest for both data points since the New York Police Department began keeping detailed records two decades ago. These months tend to be the city’s most violent, officials said.

Major felony crime was down 4% during the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 2014. But some violent crimes are on the rise for the year.

As of Monday, there were 13 more homicides this year, a 6% rise from 2014, and 47 more rapes, up 5% from last year.

Records showed that crime rose in August, fueled by increased problems in the Bronx. Officials said they also saw a crime spike in much of lower Manhattan last month because of more stolen credit cards and identity theft.

Crime and issues involving law enforcement have proved difficult terrain for Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat who won office promising to reshape the police department and has since feuded with the city police unions.

During the 2013 mayoral race, Mr. de Blasio’s Republican opponent suggested Mr. de Blasio would return New York to an era when out-of-control crime permeated city life. The mayor and Mr. Bratton have touted the crime statistics as proof that they have kept crime under control, but the public perception is different.

Polls have shown New Yorkers are increasingly worried about crime and quality of life, and interviews with residents across the boroughs indicate many fear the city is headed in the wrong direction and believe crime is rising.

About 90% of city residents said crime is a concern, according to a Quinnipiac poll last month, and 33% said quality of life is good. A majority don’t believe the mayor is handling crime, homelessness or poverty well.

“It’s the safest summer on record according to the stats, but what’s the perception of the people?” said Ed Mullins, head of the union that represents NYPD sergeants. “The cops I talk to don’t know what to do, and the people don’t feel that way. The perception is the reality.”

On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, lambasted the mayor’s record on crime, citing the increase in homicides so far this year.

“When you walk around the city, it’s a different feeling than it was the last 20 years,” said Mr. Christie on Fox News.

Mr. Christie, who is lagging in polls tracking the presidential race, said Mr. de Blasio had run a campaign that was against the police and he needed to “stop grandstanding and start doing your job.” The governor said people were afraid to come into New York City decades ago and a similar sentiment could come again.

In response, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said “no one can deny the great success” of the NYPD in keeping crime low.

Some say crime concerns have been overhyped by some media outlets and people who want Mr. de Blasio to fail.

“Many are trying really hard to continue that narrative irrespective of what the statistics say,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “I think the narrative of ‘we’re out of control’ is unfortunate. They’re in the business of creating mass hysteria. It’s just not accurate.”

Still, Mr. Williams said, New Yorkers are concerned about gun violence. “It’s hard to tell someone overall shootings are down if there’s a shooting on their block or their friend was shot,” he said.

After two police officers were killed while on duty in December, a police union head blamed the mayor for their deaths. For months, when protests swept the city and the nation in the wake of high-profile civilian fatalities during police encounters, Mr. de Blasio struggled to find the right balance between supporting the police and the protesters.

Crime has significantly dropped in New York City and nationwide during the past two decades. The city is on pace for fewer than 400 homicides this year, compared with more than 1,000 in many years during the 1980s.

During the first eight months of this year, shootings are lower than nine of the last 10 years, despite a more aggressive effort to stop people for gun crimes during former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

NYPD officials credited the summer decrease to targeted initiatives including strategic use of overtime and temporality reassigning officers from desk duty to patrol units in the city’s most violent communities. Experts have attributed the drop in crime, both locally and nationally, to a number of factors, including a growth in income and an aging population.

New Yorkers have voiced growing concerns about the rise in homelessness. Mr. Bratton promised Wednesday to crack down on encampments, but he echoed the concern of many New Yorkers when he said he has seen more homeless in his neighborhood.

“They did become more visible this summer,” he said. Homelessness in the city has “reached a tipping point,” he said.

Councilman Ben Kallos, an Upper East Side Democrat, said there was more aggressive panhandling, street homelessness and people disobeying traffic laws in his district.

“Most New Yorkers in my district, they aren’t concerned about being murdered or robbed. They’re concerned about the aggressive panhandler, the person who is unsheltered or people who are violating other laws,” he said. “Many of them feel unsafe.”

Issue: 
Community