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Listen to Gotham’s Crime-Weary

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eye on the news

Listen to Gotham’s Crime-Weary

New Yorkers fear crime, want enforcement—and disagree with Alvin Bragg. March 30, 2022
New York
Public safety
Politics and law

Crime is surging in New York City, and residents are fed up. The number of shooting victims has nearly doubled since this time three years ago, and a frustrated Mayor Eric Adams called the city “a laughingstock” on Sunday. But public safety is no laughing matter to Gothamites, according to our latest poll of the city with Echelon Insights. New Yorkers fear crime and hold views on criminal justice at odds with new Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s progressive policies.

Crime is a top concern for nearly all New Yorkers today. One area of concern is the subway, where nearly six in ten say that they feel unsafe. Nearly 90 percent see problems in the city with homelessness and nearly as many with mental illness and substance abuse. But while there’s a lot of agreement on crime concerns, poorer and black New Yorkers—who represent about one-fifth of residents but accounted for 67 percent of murder victims and 72 percent of shooting victims in 2021—are far more likely to say crime is a “very big” problem for the city.

New Yorkers’ answer to rising crime? More policing. Seven in ten residents say that more cops walking the beat would make the city safer. After years of controversy over the presence and funding of police, fewer than one in five New Yorkers believe that reducing the NYPD’s budget would help. In fact, two-thirds of New Yorkers want a larger police presence. Support for the NYPD runs across race, income, and political party. An even more astonishing finding: more than eight in ten support Mayor Adams’s reestablishment of the NYPD’s anti-gun police squad, which his predecessor Bill de Blasio disbanded.

Providing more services and treatment to the mentally ill is another popular item. A plurality agree with Adams’s desire to impose involuntary psychiatric treatment for the seriously mentally ill when they threaten themselves or others. Giving harsher sentences to repeat offenders is also popular among two-thirds of residents. What’s unpopular: open-injection sites for drug use, reducing sentences, or releasing offenders pretrial.

Indeed, New Yorkers tend to disagree with permissive policies as a tool to bring order. In a “Day One” policy memo, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg outlined a series of criminal offenses that his office would no longer prosecute. According to our polling, a sizeable majority of New Yorkers oppose his agenda when it comes to resisting arrest or shoplifting, believing those crimes should be prosecuted. A plurality support prosecuting subway fare evasion, while a majority believe that policing and prosecuting such offenses makes the subway safer by deterring people from committing more serious crimes and allowing law enforcement to check for illegal weapons. Results are more mixed on the question of pursuing prostitution charges, but only on marijuana possession do a majority believe the D.A. should not prosecute. And unlike Bragg, New Yorkers believe criminal offenders should be treated as adults when they turn 18.

New Yorkers are divided on Bragg’s proposal to seek prison time only for “serious” crimes, such as murder: equal shares both strongly support and oppose the scheme. But when examining specific offenses—such as for aggravated assault on a child or stalkers who use weapons to threaten harm—respondents’ support for prison time rises dramatically. Even simple gun possession garners majority support for possible incarceration. Clearly, New Yorkers believe these offenses are serious. (Support for prison or jail time is not limitless: a majority are okay with capping sentences at 20 years, though many remain unsure about this and about ending sentences for “technical” parole violations.)

Breaking with the state’s progressive bail reformers, a large plurality of New Yorkers believe that individuals charged with a violent crime should be held in jail until their trial. A plurality also believe bail money should be used to guarantee that even nonviolent offenders will show up to court for their trial. While some New Yorkers support bail reform, a majority remain either unsure or opposed—and a whopping 81 percent back Adams’s call for the state to hold someone in jail if he is a danger to the community.

If someone gets charged with a crime, where should he be sent? De Blasio proposed a controversial plan to close the city’s Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with four borough-based jails, at a cost of $8.3 billion. Today, after construction began on the first complex in Queens’s Kew Gardens, a plurality of New Yorkers believe the city’s jail facilities should instead be rebuilt on Rikers Island. That said, a slight majority favor a smaller jail system.

New Yorkers support Adams’s agenda on crime, with 52 percent of city residents holding a favorable opinion. By contrast, just 31 percent support Bragg. The divide on crime, policing, and prosecution appears to have more to do with age than other factors such as race, with younger residents likelier to support more progressive policies on these matters.

Overall, New Yorkers seem eager for a return to policies that prioritize reducing crime and reinstating real consequences for lawbreakers. Policymakers should take heed: it’s time to listen to crime-weary citizens.

Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

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