THE GOOD NEWS:
Crime in New York City is as low as its been in nearly 70 years thanks to community engagement initiatives, an improving local economy, and strategies that avoid using deadly force.
New York City is growing — but its crime rate continues to plunge. And while a number of factors go into a phenomenon that big, the city’s changing police tactics are drawing special notice.
With such favorable numbers coming in from 2017, when critics warned easing off on deadly force and random frisks could lead to more crime, some vindication is in the air for the reformers. An astounding 1,945 fewer residents were killed in 2017 than in 1990, and major felonies are at record lows. All told, crime is down 27 years in a row — the lowest since the 1950s.
The data ought to be read against a general decrease in crime nationwide from peaks in the 1990s. A few recent spikes in big cities haven’t stopped murder and violent crime from plunging by half, according to the FBI — about record lows relative to a quarter-century back. New York’s remarkable turnaround hasn’t made an outsized impact on the raw numbers. But it has put forth striking evidence that its changed approach to policing can deliver once-unimaginable results.
Unfortunately, some controversy has swirled around claims that the difference has more to do with “gentrification” and racial and ethnic neighborhood composition than with community-centric policing and judicious applications of force. But while a complete analysis of New York City’s achievements will take time to fully develop, it’s already clear that policing reform gets results because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
The city’s specific gains paint a portrait of effective police reform that combines improvements in communications, technology, and resident relations. In areas with changing demographics, new expectations and healthier relationships can take root quickly. But the same rapid change can result in areas that have long suffered from persistent crime and strained relations with police. A fresh start is a fresh start, especially when it’s palpably personal.
To be sure, broader trends in and out of New York had helped nudge crime away from its highs. Large-scale economic variables ranging from unemployment numbers to interest rates have been identified as likely factors in the shift. Even police commissioner James O’Neill admitted he can’t boil the success down to a single clear cause. “But we’re seeing people coming forward and having faith in the NYPD,” he noted. “And that’s what we want to happen.”
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