For the First Time in 20 Years, New York's Crime Rate Is on the Rise

While Bloomberg brags about his record, the city's crime rate is on the rise

For the First Time in 20 Years, New York's Crime Rate Is on the Rise
Illustration by John W. Tomac

In April 2011, a 16-year-old Bronx gang member named Dontae Murray was shot to death in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. His associates blamed two rival gangs and went looking for revenge.

The police caught Murray's killer fairly quickly, but over the next 16 months, the murder sparked a bitter street war between Murray's set, Dub City, and the two other gangs, 280 and WTG—a street war in which the gang members acted, in the words of a veteran prosecutor, like they were in a video game shooting at obstacles, not people. At least 14 people were shot. A series of other shooting incidents was linked to the dispute, along with numerous beatings and strong-arm robberies.

By the time police and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor's office took down Murray's key associates at the end of August, the warfare had driven up the crime rate in the 44th Precinct, causing a spike this year of 15 percent, and 19 percent compared with 2010. Shooting victims and shooting incidents jumped by 14 percent.

Last year, Tayshana Murphy of the Grant Houses—a promising basketball player—was shot and killed.
C.S. Muncy
Last year, Tayshana Murphy of the Grant Houses—a promising basketball player—was shot and killed.
West Harlem has seen renewed violence and feuding between the Grant and Manhattanville public housing complexes.
C.S. Muncy
West Harlem has seen renewed violence and feuding between the Grant and Manhattanville public housing complexes.

Police logged close to 100 more felony assaults in the precinct. And the total so far, 490 assaults, is almost identical to the number recorded in 2001, just before the Bloomberg administration came to power.

The tabloids focused on the rival gangs using Facebook to gloat over shootings and text messages to arrange the violence, but there was another, larger issue that the rash of violence suggested.

For the first time in 20 years, New York City might record an overall rise in crime.

In West Harlem, 125th Street has become a front line for tensions between gangs in two large public housing developments, the Grant Houses and the Manhattanville Houses. There is a history of clashes between rival groups from the development going back decades, but for a good period of the new century, there had been a truce.

Over the past two years, however, that truce has been replaced by a renewed series of fights, punctuated at times by gunfire. Derrick Haynes, a longtime community activist, described incidents that started as name-calling among kids and led to rock and bottle skirmishes, followed by fistfights, beatings, slashing, and, eventually, gunfire.

That violence made headlines a year ago with the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Grant resident and promising basketball player Tayshana Murphy, a crime linked to a beef between the rival gangs. Just two weeks ago, a Manhattanville kid stabbed a Grant youth, and was caught outside a bodega that is often a flash point for the skirmishes.

This year, crime in the 26th Precinct is up by 4.5 percent, but there has been a 26 percent jump in assaults, partly fueled by the Grant/Manhattanville clashes. Now, community leaders are trying to come up with methods to deal with the violence.

"It is worse, consistently worse," says Sarah Martin, the president of the tenant council at the Grant Houses. "It's an increase in gang activity. There are a lot more gangs. There's nothing for kids to do with their time."

On a recent evening, the 61st Precinct community council held its monthly meeting in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. Because crime is up 46 percent in the precinct—the largest percentage increase in the city—one would have expected a long discussion of the causes of the crime, including a 70 percent jump in robberies and a 44 percent jump in burglaries, and what was being done to deal with it.

Instead, the residents who showed up for the nearly three-hour meeting were almost exclusively interested in other things: traffic patterns, people speeding on Ocean Avenue, and civic disputes, like a toxic conflict between two neighbors that absorbed half the meeting. In fact, the crime increase hardly came up. Afterward, the council's president, Yves Etienne, professed not to be aware of it.

The crime rate has become perhaps the single most important gauge of the city's health, and for 20 consecutive years, that rate has been dropping—something Mayor Michael Bloomberg never seems to miss an opportunity to mention.

But what's happening this year in places like Morris Heights, West Harlem, and Sheepshead Bay are just examples of a larger trend across the city that is slowly coming into focus. For the first time in two decades, the year will likely end with an increase in crime.

Although the homicide rate continues to drop—it's down 16 percent so far this year—a series of other crime indicators shows the opposite. First, there's the citywide crime rate, which is based on seven felony categories: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft.

That number is up by just more than 4 percent compared with 2011, and it's up more than 5 percent compared to 2010, which suggests the upward trend has held steady for two years. Crime is also up in each of the five boroughs, which means the rise is not isolated to one particular area.

Five of those seven major crime categories show increases. And though shootings show a modest 3 percent increase citywide, the percentages are higher in Manhattan, Queens, North Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.

[The uptick in shooting numbers we reported were based on year to date figures through Sept. 2. Since then, there has been a small turnaround. Through Sept. 23, the figures now show a .4 percent decline citywide in shooting incidents and a 2.6 percent decline in shooting victims. The change appears to be fueled by a steep drop in shootings over the past month, compared to the same month last year.]

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