Police in the U.S. stop more than one million people on the street each year. Civil liberties critics say that the stop-and-frisk tactic employs racial profiling. It’s hard to argue with the numbers—most stops are of black and Latino men. The New York City Police Department is a staunch defender of the practice and out of the million stops cited by the AP, the NYPD will be responsible for about 600,000 of them by year’s end.
Therefore it was no surprise that at the mayoral debate last Tuesday evening (see 45:30 in NY1 video), the issue of NYPD tactics under Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up when the Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked challenger and current Comptroller Bill Thompson to clarify his position with regard to the stop-and-frisk policy.
I was at the debate along with two of my colleagues (check out Lindsay Lazarski’s post re: education) and my ears perked up when I heard Lisberg’s question.
Crime continues to fall in New York City, the mayor and the commissioner of the NYPD said this month, and they boasted about how New York is still the safest big city in the country, according to new data from the FBI’s Crime in the United States, the Uniform Crime Report from 2008.
Criminologists often say that the murder rate is the best indicator when forecasting overall crime. If this is the case, then New York City is doing quite well this year (that is, if you can ever say that when you’re talking about murders). The city is on pace in to hit a record-low number of homicides in 2009—while the number stood at 325 as of Sept. 18, the NYPD projects it will rise to 457 by year’s end. While still a lot, the number is the lowest in nearly 50 years since the police department began keeping the data in 1962. The previous low was 497 in 2007.
The high was in 1990, at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, when there were 2,245 homicides. That year was also in the midst of a hard-hitting economic downturn in the city, and unemployment was on the rise. Perhaps that’s why some criminologists are thankful about this year’s numbers, but still nervous about what is to come. The city is again in a recession in 2009 and unemployment jumped to 10.3 percent last month, hitting double digits for the first time in 16 years. The unemployment rate is not expected to hit its peak for at least another year.
One also begins to wonder about crime statistics kept by the city—especially in a year when the mayor is up for re-election.
While we should all be happy about crime being lower, it is interesting to note that the NYPD’s rate of the number of homicides solved in a year, compared to number of murders in that year, stands at about 70 percent, which is the same as it was about 15 years ago. So can the mayor and the NYPD really take so much credit? (Not to make light of this all, but I’m assuming that topping the list of unsolved homicides is the very first murder recorded in New York City from 400 years ago.)