For the first time in 25 years, New York City has experienced an entire weekend without a shooting or homicide. Understandably, Mayor Bill de Blasio is dining out on the good news, attributing the quiet weekend to his “winning team.” But as reports note, the last time the Big Apple had a silent weekend was in 1993—a year in which the city saw 1,960 murders (854 of which occurred in just 12 of the city’s 75 precincts). That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t celebrate the fact that New Yorkers lived in relative peace this weekend; that’s always worth celebrating. But we should be careful not to read too much into what one weekend means for the city’s crime rate.
And on closer inspection, it seems possible that this past weekend’s ceasefire came about despite and not because of how de Blasio and others are approaching crime. As of October 7, New York City has seen 17 more murders and 293 more rapes through the same point in 2017, according to NYPD data. The uptick in murders is mostly concentrated in the Bronx (+15) and northern Queens (+11). Even more troubling is that rapes are up (year-to-date) in every major patrol sector and in every borough: Manhattan South (+35), Manhattan North (+59), Brooklyn South (+49), Brooklyn North (+21), Queens South (+14), Queens North (+58), Bronx (+49), and Staten Island (+8).
The numbers for shootings are more mixed, highlighting areas of the city that prove to be persistently challenging. Overall, shooting incidents are up in 28 (36 percent) of the city’s 77 precincts. The city has had exactly 600 shootings through October 7—423 of those (70.5 percent) occurring in the Bronx and Brooklyn. About half (203) of the shootings in Brooklyn and the Bronx occurred in just seven of the 35 precincts in those two boroughs—the 67th, 73rd, 75th, 79th, 40th, 44th, and 46th. Those seven precincts, containing largely black and Latino neighborhoods, accounted for more than a third of all shootings in New York City. By contrast, the entire island of Manhattan has seen only 67 shootings this year, 61 of which were sprinkled throughout upper Manhattan, mostly in the areas constituting Harlem and Washington Heights. Staten Island has had a grand total of 16 shootings in 2018, 12 of which happened within the confines of the 120th precinct, which has had historically elevated levels of crime (it’s also where Eric Garner’s infamous confrontation with police took place).
What these numbers tell us is twofold. First, though the dearth of shootings this weekend is heartening, broader trends are not necessarily moving in the right direction. New York City has come incredibly far in terms of public safety from the bad old days of the early 1990s, but those gains were brought about, in significant part, by the NYPD’s commitment to data-driven, proactive Broken Windows policing—which some city leaders want to walk away from.
For example, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.—to de Blasio’s chagrin—promised earlier this year to stop prosecuting fare-jumping, despite the overlap between such fare-beaters and more serious criminals, as illustrated by the February arrest of a man for fare evasion wanted for attempted murder in Virginia. And not long ago, then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito spearheaded a reform effort—signed into law by de Blasio—aimed at reducing the likelihood of arrest for quality-of-life offenses such as public urination. The work of George Kelling and other Manhattan Institute scholars has highlighted the positive effects of quality-of-life enforcement on controlling crime.
Reformers see Vance and Mark-Viverito’s policy changes as ways of addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and that takes us to the second thing that the crime numbers tell us: violent crime remains largely concentrated in minority neighborhoods, which means that racial disparities are inevitable. It also means, though, that minority communities will disproportionately feel the effects—probably in the form of higher crime rates over time—of the depolicing of minor quality-of-life offenses.
Though it’s too early to draw broad conclusions from this year’s crime numbers, it’s also unjustified to point to one quiet weekend as proof that backing off of policing minor offenses isn’t costing us anything. In many high-crime areas, the evidence points the other way.