News & Politics

Wanted: NYC Crime Numbers


“So far after two months, the crime rate is down a couple percent,” was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s quote to the New York Post when the paper last week wrote about the jump in Big Apple rapes and murders so far this year. And he’s right: According to the latest figures posted on the NYPD website crime is down 1.96 percent in ’06.

But it’s helpful to remember that, in the stats at least, all crimes are equal. Eighty percent of the decrease in crime this year is due to a drop in property crimes like burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts. It sucks to get your car ripped off or your apartment broken into, but probably not as much as it does to be raped or killed. So the overall crime index probably doesn’t resonate with the public as much as the numbers of murders or rapes. And the number of murders carries more weight for a different reason: Many cops will tell you that it’s feasible to downgrade some crimes right off the stat sheet (like making a felony assault into a misdemeanor assault), but not so easy to make a murder go away.

New York City’s 82 murders (versus 74 last year) and 297 rapes (compared to 247 in ’05) through February 26 could be chalked up to any number of things. The mild winter might be one reason why killings are up 10 percent. And since most rapes are not reported, the increase in reported rapes could be due to more crimes, more reporting, more cops believing the reports they take, or some combination. And sure, murders are up over not just their 2005 pace but also the 2004 level, and rapes are higher than they were in ’05, ’04, or even ’01. But the historical review isn’t complete without a look to 1993—a year that the NYPD always reports on its Compstat sheets in a statistical homage to the Giuliani mayoralty. Rape is down 35 percent since Rudy came to power, and murder is off by a remarkable 73 percent.

But for most people the basis for crime comparison probably isn’t 13 years ago but the sense of safety we’ve enjoyed in recent years. So the NYPD tries to put the 2006 increase in rapes and murders in context: “You get wild fluctuations on such a small base with any increase exaggerated when compared to last year’s record lows,” NYPD deputy commissioner for public information Paul Browne told the Post. Of course, that’s also true of decreases in crime, but the city rarely qualifies its good news.

What would help clarify all this is a few more numbers, like the ones in the NYPD annual Statistical Report: Complaints and Arrests, copies of which occupy a shelf in the Municipal Library on Chambers Street. This report charts the time of day and week when crimes occur (e.g., most murders were on Tuesday in 2001), the age and drug-of-choice for narcotics arrestees, and how many arrests each NYPD bureau made. It also breaks down crimes according whether they were visible to the police or not—whether a rape was on the street or in a bedroom, for example.

In other words, it helps pin down something the broad-brush Compstat numbers only hit at: How good a job the cops are doing. How handy!

Unfortunately—especially given the new skepticism about Compstat—the NYPD no longer produces these reports. DCPI tells the Voice that’s because the department’s new computer system, Omniform, doesn’t allow for assembling that kind of information. That seems odd, since NYPD cadet training material says the Omniform’s data “is stored centrally in the Department’s mainframe computers for subsequent crime analysis, mapping, and auditing purposes.”

Alas, the 21st Century NYPD won’t be able to tell us how many folks got arrested for possessing “synthetic opiates” versus those carrying “hypo-syringe needles.” But you know who you are, “cannabis” fiends!

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