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FACT FOCUS: NYC crime is not worst ever, despite claims

by Assoicated Press
April 22, 2023

By Philip Marcelo
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Following Monday’s congressional hearing on violent crime in New York City, claims spread across social media that the bad old days are back in the nation’s largest city.

Conservatives and other users widely shared a video clip of New York City Councilman Robert Holden, who testified at the special hearing in Manhattan that he’s "never seen the lawlessness" he’s seen today in his lifetime.

"DEMOCRAT city councilman Robert Holden has lived in New York City for 71 years, " Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee that held the hearing tweeted, along with a clip of the Queens lawmaker’s testimony. "He’s never seen crime this bad."

But experts and city officials say crime across the five boroughs is nowhere near the levels seen in the 1990s, and while there was a rise in 2022, those figures are already trending down this year.

Here’s a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: Crime in New York City is the worst it’s ever been, especially in the borough of Manhattan where Trump faces criminal charges.

THE FACTS: While it’s true that major crimes in New York City rose last year compared to 2021, criminal justice experts say crime levels were significantly higher three decades ago, and that the current levels are more comparable to where New York was a decade ago, when people frequently lauded it as America’s safest big city.

The New York Police Department and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, meanwhile, argue the recent surge is already receding. Through the first quarter of 2023, major crimes are down overall compared to the same period last year.

Nevertheless, the notion of a crime wave washing over the Big Apple has been a steady refrain on social media since Bragg’s office brought charges against former President Donald Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts related to hush money payments during his winning 2016 campaign.

Trump and other Republicans have blamed the purported crime wave on Bragg, a progressive Democrat.

"Soft on crime policies are going to ruin this great city and that’s why we’re here today," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, during Monday’s hearing, which was held near Bragg’s office.

Nearly four months into the new year, the concerns partly bear out: felony assaults are up about 8% and auto thefts are up around 11% compared to the same period last year, according to NYPD crime data through April 16.

But the other five so-called major crimes are all down. Murders have declined more than 6%, rapes nearly 8%, robberies nearly 3%, burglaries about 8% and grand larcenies nearly 2%.

"The decline since suggests that crime is hardly skyrocketing," Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in crime and policing, wrote in an email. "In fact, the pattern suggests quite the opposite."

The apparent dips come after total major crimes spiked 22% last year, from 103, 388 incidents in 2021 to 126,537 in 2022.

That rise was driven by increases in six of the seven categories: rapes, robberies, felony assaults, burglaries, grand larcenies and car thefts, according to NYPD data. The lone exception was murders, which dropped 11%, from 488 in 2021 to 438 last year.

A spokesperson for the NYPD declined to comment, instead referring to a statement released earlier this month by Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

"While we are encouraged that five of the seven index crime categories decreased in the first quarter, felony assaults and grand larceny autos remain persistent issues," she said. "The NYPD will continue to address these conditions while also remaining focused on further driving down violence."

Bragg, in a statement posted on Twitter, noted last year’s rise in crime began before he even took office last January as the borough’s first Black district attorney.

"Virtually every major crime category is lower in Manhattan now than it was last year," he wrote.

Christopher Herrmann, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD crime analyst, agreed with the assessment, adding that crime levels in Bragg’s jurisdiction are also "nowhere close to the high-crime times of the 1990s."

Major crimes are, overall, down 72% from 1993 in Manhattan, according to his analysis of borough-level crime data. The 438 murders recorded citywide last year, moreover, are vastly less than the 2,262 recorded in 1990, NYPD’s April 16 report shows.

What’s more, the citywide violent crime rate - the number of reported crimes divided by the city’s population - has remained relatively flat over the past decade, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium in Albany, New York.

The rate has hovered between 400 to 500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents going back to at least 2011, according to her analysis of NYPD historical crime data.

"One cannot make the claim that crime is surging based on one outlier year," Schildkraut wrote in an email, referring to last year, when the rate rose to nearly 540 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.

Meanwhile Holden’s chief of staff Daniel Kurzyna, in an email Tuesday, stressed the councilman never referenced crime, only ‘’lawlessness" in his remarks.

"In his testimony, he clearly stated that he had never seen this level of lawlessness in the city before, which he stands by," Kurzyna wrote. "By lawlessness, and the Council Member had mentioned this several times on the record, including in recent interviews, is the level of anti-police rhetoric, the lack of fear of consequences, folks running red lights, e-bikes on sidewalks, rampant fare evasion and turnstile jumping, and others.’’

But a number of social media users - and at least one expert who testified Monday - noted that New York City’s crime levels pale in comparison to those in the home states of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.

Indeed in Rep. Jordan’s native Ohio, rates for all seven major crimes are higher than those in New York City, according to Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a center-left think tank in D.C., which analyzed crime data from the NYPD and Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services.

"In nearly all crime categories and in all of the states, New York City - with its population of 8.5 million sitting on a land mass of just 302 square miles - is safer," he said during Monday’s congressional hearing. "And ironically, Manhattan has a lower crime rate than the rest of New York City."

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