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December 28, 2015

Notable (lack of) big crime news emerging from the Big Apple

Sentencing and police reform opponents on the right and gun control advocates on the left have been making much of what appears to be a notable uptick in violent crimes using firearms in many cities.  But even if there was strong and consistent data showing widespread increases in violent gun crimes throughout the US throughout 2015, I would be somewhat chary about using short-term crime data alone as the basis for drawing long-term conclusions about the pros and cons of various criminal justice reforms.  

Ever the consequentialist, I do view serious violent crime rates as the single most important criminal justice metric for would-be criminal justice analysts and reformers.  But I also believe lots of (hard-to-assess in real-time) social and practical factors can have a major short-term impact on how much crime is committed and reported.  Consequently, I think it can be problematic and even dangerous for political and legal actors to over-react (positively or negatively) to any seemingly major short-term crime data changes.

That all said, this new New York Times article suggests that, at least in one major city, there may not be any major short-term crime data changes for political and legal actors to over-react to.  The article, headlined  "Anxiety Aside, New York Sees Drop in Crime," gets started this way:

Homeless encampments proliferated. Two officers, confronting armed men, were shot and killed. And many New Yorkers said they felt less safe. But fears that New York City was slipping back to a more dangerous time contrasted with reality.

As reflected in the reported levels of the most serious types of crime, the city in 2015 was as safe as it had been in its modern history. A modest decrease in reported crime is expected by year’s end.

The Police Department is reporting a 2 percent decline, as measured by seven major felonies that are tracked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation: murder, rape, robbery, serious assault, burglary, grand larceny and car theft.  At the same time, arrests recorded by officers fell steeply, to 333,115 through Dec. 20, down 13 percent from 384,770 over the same period the year before.  The number of criminal summonses dropped to 292,372 from 358,948.

There was a small rise in murders, to 339 as of Dec. 25, already more than last year’s historic low of 333.  Still, the number is well below the 536 murders recorded five years ago.  And despite an early increase in gun violence, the final tally of shootings for the year is set to come in slightly lower than last year’s figure.

“As we end this year, the City of New York will record the safest year in its history, its modern history, as it relates to crime,” said Commissioner William J. Bratton, summing up 2015 in an address to officers at a Dec. 17 promotion ceremony.  But, he added, the past 12 months had also been “terrible” for the department because of the loss of four officers in the line of duty since late last December.  “It has been a year of great contradictions,” he said, struggling for words.

The overall crime statistics, of course, do not capture the increasing presence of homeless people on the streets and in shelters that has bedeviled the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, while contributing to a creeping unease among New Yorkers.

But the disconnect may run deeper.  Since summer 2014, the country has seen one protest after another over fairness in the criminal justice system, prompted by the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and other black people in confrontations with the police.  The outcry, and the occasional outbreaks of protest­related violence, have led some to argue that criticism of the police has undermined law enforcement, empowering criminals and sowing urban disorder.

December 28, 2015 at 12:21 PM | Permalink


"less safe" are just code words for "a Democrat is in office and we don't like it."

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 28, 2015 1:03:59 PM

Here is a top notch lawyer who begs to differ.

Prof. Berman and I have both heard her speak. I was impressed, at least.

With regard to the illegal alien crime wave.


With regard to overall crime risk.


With regard to the Baltimore Effect, where police stop doing more, and start doing less after bashing by black leaders, and frivolous, politically motivated prosecutions by vicious black, feminist prosecutors. Not by Heather McDonald, but by a left wing, pro-criminal journalist. A 14% jump means hundreds of additional people are being killed. But the author downplays that jump.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2015 3:33:54 PM

The other thing, Doug, there may be pressure to fudge stats---it happens in Chicago. Does it happen in NYC? Murder stats really can't be messed with. Any thoughts on that? As a consequentialist, I would think you would be appalled where that happens.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 28, 2015 4:08:06 PM

The entire news business consists of delivering The Exception Fallacy to the public to procure "eyes" for the advertiser. They have never heard of the denominator of a fraction. They cite the deaths of young black males at the hands of the police. They do not cite the 24 million 911 calls made by black people where the police helped them.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2015 5:45:29 PM

Fed. A Village Voice article about police games, including games with reporting of serious crime. So a forcible rape is called harassment, and a citation is issued. A murder is called an accident.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2015 5:47:40 PM

I share your concern, federalist, about folks who manipulate data with hidden agendas and misguided goals. But this is a persistent and somewhat unavoidable problem with all criminal justice "data" and "facts" when we create normative categories like "murder" or "rape" or even "homicide" or "fatality" or "sexual offense" or "violent crime" -- e.g., should all, some, few, zero drunk driving deaths (or heroin overdose deaths) be called homicides/suicides and/or violent crime? should all, some, few, zero offensive sexual touchings in prison and/or on college campuses go into sexual offense categories?

My sense is that, if most drunk driving deaths and overdose deaths were called homicides, most state homicide/suicide rates would jump considerably (and stats on the relative crime rates in urban/rural areas would look very different). Similarly, sexual offenses include so many normative "coding" choices, I am never sure how even to "audit" this kind of data or to make valid geographical or temporal comparisons.

My point here is not to be nihilistic about the prospect of reasonable data collection concerning serious crime, but rather just to urge significant probing into the source and stature of an array of reported crime data and to be cautious about making too many long-term legal reforms based on short-term data developemnts.

That all said, I think recent data patterns viewed collectively suggest an uptick in serious gun crimes in a significant number of notable urban regions. But I am not sure what should be made of this uptick, especially as one considers various arguments made for and against an array of proposed sentencing, policing and gun regulation reforms.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 28, 2015 6:27:07 PM

"creeping unease"

"sowing urban disorder"

"bedeviled the administration"

Give the writer a gold star for creative writing. I appreciate the update though. On the ground, it's hard to get a sense of the big picture. Sometimes, you need to an outside observer and even then ...

Posted by: Joe | Dec 28, 2015 6:51:41 PM

No. Prof. Berman. Not interpretation. Lying. A black kid holds a housekeeper at knife point, and inserts his weewee into her. That is not an offensive touching. That is forcible rape rape, real rape. The police arrives, gets his name because the victim knows him. They issues him a ticket for harassment. That way a rape is not recorded in their precinct.

A girl goes to a police station to report the same forcible scenario. Her detailed report is torn into shreds, by the desk sergeant, and thrown into the trash.

The police does not want to get yelled at. They get yelled at if their numbers go up. So they cover up and use their unaccountable discretion to drop the numbers and get praised instead of yelled at.

I have proposed ending all legal immunities, including the heinous and corrupt Eleventh Amendment. I would hold the lawyer and its agent, the police, to professional standards of due care. And the police does have a duty to the individual. Its duty to the jurisdiction is another lawyer fictitious doctrine. There should be malpractice liability for false discretion to not prosecute as well as for false allegations. If the lawyer does not want to be sued, let it exercise more care.

Isn't it time to end these self dealt immunities? They are toxic to the lawyer profession itself. Every single self stated goal of every law subject is in utter failure. How much can the lawyer profession fail before it decides rent seeking is just not enough, and pride in the craft has some value.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2015 8:00:07 PM

Until the Obama administration "improved" the DOJ Crime Victim Survey, they surveyed the population for victimization to the 8 common law crimes, 4 being violent.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 28, 2015 8:05:48 PM

End welfare as you now it and you will lower crime as you definitely know it.

Posted by: Beldar From Remulak | Dec 30, 2015 12:50:10 PM

If we end welfare as we now "know" it then America would be a better place. Take "food stamps". They are not "stamps" or coupons anymore. It is a credit card. Free food from the card. Then they dig the cash out and buy the cigarettes and fine wine.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Dec 30, 2015 7:21:30 PM

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