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NYC crime rates at record lows, mirroring national trends

Data contradicts the Attorney General's claim of violent crime wave sweeping the nation.

In this Dec. 19, 2017 photo, police officers talk with the occupant of a car while patrolling in the 75th Police Precinct in the Brooklyn borough of New York. New York City is on track to smash its modern-era low for homicides. In 2017, crime dropped substantially even in places like Brooklyn’s 75th Police Precinct, once among the nation’s most chronically violent places. CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
In this Dec. 19, 2017 photo, police officers talk with the occupant of a car while patrolling in the 75th Police Precinct in the Brooklyn borough of New York. New York City is on track to smash its modern-era low for homicides. In 2017, crime dropped substantially even in places like Brooklyn’s 75th Police Precinct, once among the nation’s most chronically violent places. CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Crime in New York City has plunged to record lows not seen since the 1950s even as police have made fewer arrests, used less deadly force, and scaled back controversial practices such as stop and frisk on the streets of the city, according to a report from the New York Times.   

Crime is down across the board for major felony crimes, including murder, manslaughter, rape, assault, and robbery, with killings at an all-time low (since reliable records have been kept), the Times found. As of Wednesday, there were 286 murders in the city compared to 2,245 in 1990.

“There is no denying that the arc is truly exceptional in the unbroken streak of declining crime,” former Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told the Times.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly claimed that a violent crime wave is sweeping the nation, and has also called for a return to “law and order.”

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“We have a crime problem,” Sessions said during his swearing-in ceremony. “I wish the rise that we are seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”

But the data tells a much different story.

Nationally crime has remained near historic lows, even with local, isolated increases, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute in New York City, which called the Trump administration’s proposed tough on crime rhetoric and proposals as “solutions in search of a problem.”

Earlier this year, the Brennan Center released an analysis of 2017 crime in America’s 30 largest cities, and found that crime overall was projected to decrease slightly by 1.8 percent. If the center’s estimate holds, 2017 will have the second lowest crime rate since 1990.

The Brennan Center also projected that the violent crime rate would decrease, albeit slightly, by 0.6 percent, and attributed the decrease primarily to a stabilization of crime in Chicago, and a decline in crime in Washington, D.C. These two cities experienced increases in violent crime in recent years, according to the center.  

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The murder rate is also projected to decline this year (2.5 percent lower than 2016), with the decline primarily driven by decreases in New York City, Detroit and Houston, according to the Brennan Center.

In New York City, crime data showed an uptick toward the end of 2017 in one area: reports of rapes. The increase, noted the New York Times, coincided with the #MeToo movement and the publication of accusations of sexual assault and misconduct against Hollywood power players like Harvey Weinstein and many others across society including media, politics, and sports figures.

Police officials said news coverage of this issue may have played a role in the increase, and also credited their own work in encouraging domestic violence victims to speak out.

While city and police officials also told the New York Times that the recent drops in crime may be due to rebuilding community relations and focusing on groups believed to be responsible for crime, research has shown that broader issues may be at play with the long-term crime declines.  

A 2015 Brennan Center study of crime trends found that over-harsh criminal justice policies, particularly increased incarceration, were not the main drivers of the crime decline.  

“More important were various social, economic, and environmental factors, such as growth in income and an aging population,” the study concluded. “The introduction of CompStat, a data-driven policing technique, also played a significant role in reducing crime in cities that introduced it.”

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The study recommended programs that improve economic opportunities, modernize policing practices, and expand treatment and rehabilitation programs, as a better investment of public safety dollars.