How Dangerous Is NYC These Days?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 2 2015 @ 3:37pm

With its police force in a “virtual work stoppage“, Ben Wallace-Wells takes stock of the city’s crime rates:

Nearly every New Yorker now lives, in some meaningful way, in a post-peak-crime city marked by gentrification and safety, even in what were very recently very poor neighborhoods. The statistics that de Blasio rattled off at the Ingersoll Houses were astonishing: 80 percent reductions in murder and robberies since the early ’90s. (Perhaps even more amazing is the statistic that the criminologist Frederick Zimring of the University of California-Berkeley likes to cite, that auto thefts have declined by 95 percent.)

The mayor is, as my colleague Chris Smith astutely pointed out, lying low right now. But when he reemerges, one way to further de-escalate tension might be to continue in the cooler vein he displayed at Ingersoll: talk about the achievements of the NYPD in reducing crime; about the accomplishments of the last year as the department has scaled back stop-and-frisk while seeing continued declines in violence [homicide down 7 percent and robberies down 14 percent since 2013]; about the false choice of the trade-off between security and freedom.

What other policies has the mayor put into place this year? From Margaret Hartmann’s list of “43 Ways New York Has Changed Under Mayor de Blasio”:

4. NYPD officers are starting to use body cameras.
About 60 officers in six precincts throughout the city began testing wearable video cameras in December as the first step toward outfitting the entire force with body cameras. The pilot program is one of the reforms ordered by Judge Scheindlin, but the NYPD said it was proceeding “independent of the order,” and it moved up the launch date after protests in Ferguson, Missouri made body cameras a national issue.

5. New York police officers are being retrained.
In the wake of the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Mayor de Blasio announced that all 35,000 NYPD officers would be retrained. The three-day program, which started in November and will end in June, covers physical tactics, such as how to properly take down a suspect, and various “de-escalation” techniques, including a lecture on self-regulating emotion in stressful situations.

6. Carrying a small amount of weed will probably result in a ticket, not an arrest.
In November, Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced a shift in the city’s marijuana policy: Now, in most circumstances, those caught with a small amount of marijuana (25 grams or less) will only be ticketed. While marijuana possession has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, the NYPD had skirted the rule by having suspects turn out their pockets, bringing their pot into “open view.” Within two weeks, low-level marijuana arrests were already down 60 percent.

And how is the NYPD faring in this continued decline in crime and drug arrests? Adam Chandler looks at a new report on cop safety:

On Tuesday, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a pro-police nonprofit, released its preliminary 2014 report on officer deaths, which listed the total number of fatalities at 126. Most striking was the number of firearms-related deaths in 2014 (50), which was a 56 percent jump from 2013 (32). The second-leading cause of death for police were traffic-related fatalities (49), an increase from last year (44), when it was the year’s leading cause, according to the group’s data. NBC added that, despite the increase, 2014’s total of 126 is well below the average of 151 for the past decade.

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Max Ehrenfreund adds, “Fifteen of those officers died in ambushes, including Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York this month.” But Dara Lind raises several caveats for the supposed spike in cop deaths:

The Memorial Fund doesn’t distinguish between officers who are killed by suspects — what the FBI calls “felonious killings” of police — and officers who are killed by accident (for example, during training exercises). But the FBI’s annual report on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted does count the two separately — and it consistently finds that more than half of all officer fatalities are accidental.

When the FBI counts felonious deaths alone, the number of officers killed each year is well within double digits:

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Even counting accidental deaths, the FBI’s numbers are lower than the Memorial Fund’s: the FBI reported that 78 officers were feloniously or accidentally killed in the line of duty in 2013, for example, while the Memorial Fund says that 102 were. Two factors that could help explain the disparity: the FBI doesn’t collect data from every law enforcement agency in the country (its 2013 report covered 78.2 percent of America); and the Memorial Fund counts deaths from “job-related illnesses” as officer fatalities.

But even with the discrepancy between the two data sources, it’s reasonable to assume that many of the 126 officer deaths the Memorial Fund says happened in 2014 were accidents.