Safety in Numbers Crime Levels Vs. Reality

The transformation of New York City from one of the nation’s perceived most dangerous places to one of the safest, if not the safest, big cities in America is an old story by now, but it still continues to amaze both longtime New Yorkers and visitors alike. It seems like only yesterday that the crack epidemic was in full swing, the subway was considered unsafe at night, muggings and apartment break-ins were commonplace, drug dealing went on openly in city parks, entire blocks were boarded up or burned down, and every subway car was defaced by graffiti.

Sometimes, gang members would even discuss their “business”—who they planned to beat up, their drug deals, and their guns—with each other on subways or buses, as frightened riders tried as they could to ignore them. Of course, the 1979 movie The Warriors was an exaggeration, but there was some truth to it. Today, that’s not the case—what has changed here, and why?

Crunching Crime Numbers

While people may disagree on the causes, statistics tell the story. According to the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) online statistics (http: //www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/pct/cspdf.html), on a citywide basis, murder has gone down 16 percent from 2001 to 2005, 54 percent from 1995 to 2005, and a whopping 76 percent from 1990 to 2005—from 2,262 homicides to 540.

Rapes, too, have gone down, from 3,126 in 1990 to 3,018 in 1995 to 1,930 in 2001, to 1,635 in 2005. As for robberies, they’ve decreased from 100,280 to 59,733 to 27,873 to 24,442.

Aha, you might say, but what about some of the city’s more dangerous areas? Well, let’s take a look at the 44th Precinct in the Southwest Bronx, the famed “Fort Apache” of yesteryear. Even there, murders steadily decreased from 89 in 1990 to 44 in 1995 to 31 in 2001 to 16 in 2005, for a total of an 82 percent decrease since 1990.

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