Does New York have a crime problem? And, if so, what’s the cause?
Those two questions are playing a central role in the November elections across New York as well as the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, the answer to questions about crime are complex, but the rhetoric in these campaigns is often simple, incomplete and purposely designed to inspire fear among voters.
This is not to say crime isn’t a problem. We don’t have to tell that to anyone who has been a victim of a crime.
Or to those whose decisions about where to go and when have been influenced by concerns about the current level of crime – whether to ride the New York City subways, lock your doors at home, attend a Broadway show or return to work in-person.
In this way, crime and the perception of crime play a large part in everyone’s life.
So let’s start with some facts.
On a historical basis, crime is very low in New York and across the country.
Crime in 2020 nationwide was 60% lower than in 1980. New York and New Jersey led the way with a 69% drop in violent crime. New York was sixth during that period with a 72% decline in property crime.
This was consistent with crime over the past three decades when Northeastern states have had the lowest crime rates, while states in the South and West have had the most crime.
But crime rates changed dramatically across the United States in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.
The murder rate rose by nearly 30% and assaults increased by more than 10% from their lows. Both were part of an increase in gun violence. More than 75% of murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm – the highest level in recent history.
Murders rose in cities nationwide and jurisdictions of all types.
“Relative to 2019, the number of murders jumped by more than 30 percent in the largest cities and by 20 percent in places designated by the FBI as ‘suburban’ — cities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants that are within a Metropolitan Statistical Area,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.”
Murders rose by comparable levels in rural areas, too. They also rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats and in red states and blue.
New York City, which had been experiencing historic lows in violent crime before the pandemic, had among the highest increases in murder among cities, rising 46.7% in 2020 and 3.6% in 2021.
But the rate of crime is still relatively low – even if it doesn’t feel that way.
There have been 321 murders in New York City so far in 2022. By comparison, the murder rate was six times higher in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, New York City set a record with 2,245 murders.
Nassau County is on track for a 34% increase in crime in 2022 led by property crimes.
How do we know this? A Freedom of Information Law request by Blank Slate Media. Nassau last posted monthly crime statistics in March.
So why the increase in crime New York?
Republicans across New York now led by Congressman Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor, have repeatedly blamed the rise in crime in the state on bail reform laws enacted in 2020 and twice amended since then.
The reforms, poorly rolled out, eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes in the state, which had resulted in tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly black and brown, being imprisoned because they were poor.
Zeldin and some others have called for scrapping the bail law reforms.
This has been a politically potent argument, helping elect Republicans in all four countywide positions in Nassau in 2021.
Quick fixes to serious complex problems are attractive.
But what they say about bail reform is not true, Bail reform has played no more than a small part in the rise in crime in New York, according to an analysis by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and various media.
If the Republicans have any proof otherwise, we are still waiting to hear it.
New York Republicans should also explain why crime increased in the other 49 states, which did not enact bail reform laws in 2020.
The problem almost exclusively blaming bail reform for the increase in crime is that we can’t offer changes that would reduce crime if you we can’t identify the problem.
Most Democrats have focused their message on gun-safety legislation, including red-flag laws and legislation backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, in response to the decision by the six Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices to overturn New York State’s century-old law strictly limiting carrying guns outside the home.
U.S. District Judge Glenn Suddaby recently halted key provisions of the law, saying licensing requirements — like a rule requiring applicants to turn over information about their social media accounts — went too far. A hearing is expected shortly.
Zeldin lauded the Supreme Court’s ruling at the time, saying that the previous framework was an attack on the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
He even went beyond the Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court by saying the right to carry guns is absolute or as he said “shall not be infringed.”
This seems like an odd stance for someone running on reducing crime in New York.
The United States accounts for half of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. But we are nowhere the safest.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has said the rise in crime can be attributed to many factors, including a lack of opportunity for the poor and lax gun regulations in neighboring states that allow for their trafficking in New York.
But most Democrats have not addressed these other causes as well as the impact of the pandemic.
This includes the elephant in the room – a crisis in mental health in tandem with opioid and alcohol addiction.
The record-setting murder rate of 1990 was tied to the crack epidemic. Why has there been so little discussion about the impact of drugs and alcohol following a pandemic that saw a dramatic rise in addiction?
And does anyone not believe that mental health breakdowns have played a major part in mass shootings and individual acts of violence?
People faced challenges in meeting basic needs, especially during the first year of the pandemic. Many endured trauma caused by sickness and death. Families faced disintegration as parents or caregivers caught or succumbed to the disease.
What about students who fell behind during the pandemic – or just stopped going to school?
The response has been inadequate then and now. As has been the response to poverty – a factor in crime both before and after the pandemic.
Republicans have also cited calls to defund the police by a small minority of Democrats following the murder of George Floyd and a series of shootings of unarmed black men.
But, again, reality gets in the way as national Democrats have never called for defunding the police and actually voted to increase aid to police forces.
New York City recently added police to high-crime areas – a common-sense technique followed in the past by Nassau County that is welcomed.
More police are needed to combat the rise in crime. As are reforms that help eliminate bad apples from police forces who do not uphold the law and undermine the trust with local communities needed to make us safer.
In the meantime, voters should beware of candidates who base their campaigns on grainy photographs of crime in direct mail postcards and television ads aimed at appealing to voters’ fears.
They are not offering solutions and don’t deserve your vote.