NYC, “Safest Big City,” Systematically Falsifying Crime Statistics

Every gun controller’s favorite Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is awfully proud of his city’s crimefighting record. He never misses a chance to tell someone holding a mic that New York is the safest big city in the country. And he usually trots this claim out following a gang-related shooting or when a cop takes a bullet in the line of duty. Right after first decrying the prevalence of guns in America, that is . . .

In fact, Hizzoner practically busted his buttons during last weekend’s National Night Out, blowing the New York safety horn yet again. nypost.com has the quote:

“The proof is in the numbers. Take a look crime here is down 36 percent from where it was in 2001,” he (said) at a block party hosted by the 32nd Precinct in Harlem. “Since 2001, the NYPD had cut crime citywide by 32 percent and made this the safest big city in the nation.”

That’s a hell of an impressive stat. It would be even more impressive if it were true. According to a little-noticed piece at HuffPo last week, the NYPD has been systematically understating the city’s crime statistics for years.

The practice of manufacturing artificially low crime rates increased substantially after 2002 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner Raymond Kelly. New research based on interviews with 2,000 retired police officers from the NYPD reveals pervasive, system-wide corruption of criminal records and police practices. This research suggests that concern with the department’s reputation for reducing crime, much more than with public safety, drives police policy.

How is this done? Simple. Cops simply downgrade the severity of reported crimes in the department’s crime-tracking system. An artful turn of phrase and voila! A felony sexual assault becomes simple battery.

But hey, they’re only statistics, right? Bits and bites that get passed onto the FBI for their Uniform Crime Reports. That stuff only really matter to numbers geeks, mayors and the local chamber of commerce. Except when potentially actionable data is compromised and cops on the street are directed to other parts of the city than where they’re really needed.

The consequences of downgrading or not reporting crimes can be severe. For example, in 2010 recently retired Detective Harold Hernandez revealed to Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman that a series of sexual assault-robberies in Washington Heights had been downgraded from serious felonies to misdemeanors. As a result, the NYPD missed the crime pattern and allowed a sexual predator to remain at large for at least two months and to commit six more rapes.

Let’s be real, though. This kind of thing probably happens in every big city. Smaller ones too, at least to some extent. Except it’s gotten a lot worse since 2001 when Mayor Mike and Chief Cop Kelly took the helm.

Researchers compared interviews with over two thousand retired cops (the only ones who feel free to speak without possibility of retribution). Of those who retired before 1995, 25% reported they’d seen reports falsified. Cops retiring between 1996 and 2001 saw it 28% of the time.

However, in the Kelly/Bloomberg era (2002 and after) over half the officers — 51 percent — had observed the intentional misclassification of serious crimes as petty offenses and other unethical practices, typically multiple times. Officers also reported that since 2002 they had experienced unusually strong pressures from supervisors to downgrade crimes and keep crime numbers low.

So under-reporting serious crime in New York has basically doubled under the Bloomberg/Kelly regime. It’s almost as if all those “safest big city in the country” proclamations are just smoke and mirrors intended to make residents think they’re safer than they really are. Not to mention justifying the city’s ridiculously restrictive gun control laws.

But never underestimate three academics’ ability to draw the wrong conclusions. Or prescribe “answers” that conveniently fit with their political or world views, whatever real world experience may indicate.

There is now a clear message emanating from the top commanders at police headquarters: make many stop and frisks, write many summonses, make many arrests for petty offenses, and downgrade serious crimes. In other words, the NYPD seeks to keep the serious crime numbers low while showing lots of officer activity. The NYPD’s 50,000 marijuana arrests, 600,000 summonses, and nearly 700,000 stop and frisks do little or nothing to make the city safer. Indeed, this unnecessary activity alienates communities and hurts the NYPD’s ability to fight serious and violent crimes.

Let’s just be glad the three authors haven’t been asked to screw in a light bulb. The trio (two professors and a law student) aren’t fans of stop and frisk, never mind weed prohibition. They see S&F as racial profiling, pure and simple, and a civil rights violation. And in the absence of probable cause, they won’t get any arguments here.

But while stop and frisk has stirred up plenty of sturn und drang – especially in the city’s minority communities – there’s no evidence that it’s not also effective at preventinging crime. And the strategy isn’t universally hated, either. It has no shortage of support from those on both the left and the right.

In fact, stop and frisk would seem to continue in the successful tradition of the kind of proactive policing – zero tolerance for low level crimes, busting subway turnstile jumpers, squeegee men and streetcorner pot smokers – that was used to great effect by Rudi Giuliani and his Police Chief, William Bratton.

That “broken windows” approach – locking up petty offenders before they graduate to more serious crimes – helped turn the city around and began the significant (and, ahem, real) reductions in crime rates when it had become almost unlivable after decades of textbook urban management.

While determining NYC’s actual violent crime rate should be a priority, throwing out politically incorrect but effective crimefighting strategies with the statistically falsified bathwater—as the authors advocate—would seem to be more than a little counterproductive.

Here’s a better idea: restore New York City’s residents’ right to keep and bear arms and see what happens. It’s worth a try.