New York City recorded in 2017 its lowest number of homicides since the end of World War II — just under 300 killings in a year that also saw the smallest number of shootings recorded in the five borough’s modern history.
By midnight of New Year’s Eve, police were expected to report 290 homicides, down 12.5 percent from 334 reported in 2016. Barring any last minute adjustment, New York will have a murder rate of just over 3.4 per 100,000 population, the lowest of any of the nation’s five largest cities.
“It is nothing short of amazing,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said earlier in December about the historic crime trends.
By comparison, Chicago, which through December 24 had reported 644 killings in a city with about one-third the population of the Big Apple, has a preliminary homicide rate of 23.8. Chicago also will have at least 2,758 shootings in 2017, compared with just under 800 for New York, a drop of about 15 percent from 2016.
The latest New York City homicide number is the lowest in the modern era of NYPD Compstat record keeping, which began in 1994. It is a fraction of the record 2,245 killings in 1990 during an era of major drug-fueled violence.
“Murder figures in New York were never as high as they were a generation ago, they were off the charts no matter how you figure,” said crime and police historian Thomas Reppetto. “We were in really bad shape in New York in the 1990s.”
As the low crime figures became apparent over several months, O’Neill attributed the declines to some core factors: “precision” policing against key offenders, anti-gang initiatives and aggressive gun investigations. O’Neill also believes, although he has only spoke of anecdotal evidence at this stage, that his neighborhood policing initiative has opened up avenues of communication between cops and communities.
Neighborhood policing will be a mainstay of the NYPD going forward into 2018 although its longterm impact is unclear. In a recent report on various proactive policing efforts, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that “community relations” approaches which are much like the NYPD effort, do lead to modest improvements in the public view of police in the short term, although there is little research on longterm impact.
In 2017, the city saw declines in almost every crime category. Rape reports spiked last fall, which experts believe may be a result of media reports of sexual harassment allegations against disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others. Overall, serious felonies declined by about six percent in 2017, something accomplished with virtual no stop and frisk activity by cops, criminologists note.
The low New York homicide rate in 2017, when compared with similar statistics from one hundred years ago, show that the city by at least that one indicator is safer now than in 1917.
NYPD annual reports show the city had 236 homicides in 1917 when its population was about 5.73 million, giving a murder rate of 4.11. Vital statistics prepared for the State Assembly increased those figures to 248 homicides and a rate of 4.27.
Going back to 1863 when a geographically smaller city was wracked by the Draft Riots — protests against then-new Civil War draft laws — city records showed a homicide rate of 15.75 with 127 killings. The 19th century appeared to be a violent time for the city, said historian and author Bruce Chadwick.“The murder rate in the mid-1800s was about six or seven times as high as it is today, the overall crime rate in that era was three or four times as high as it is today,” said Chadwick, author of “Law & Disorder: the Chaotic Birth of The NYPD,” who teaches English at New Jersey City University.
Going into 2018, O’Neill has said that the crime numbers can be pushed even lower.