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Study: Major violent crime rate in metro region down

Suffolk County Police investigate a shooting that took

Suffolk County Police investigate a shooting that took place on North 20th Street in Wyandanch. (Nov. 1, 2010) Photo Credit: Paul Mazza

The major violent crime rate in the expanded metropolitan New York City area - comprising more than 18 million people in a region stretching from Montauk Point to northern Pennsylvania - has declined by more than 36 percent between 2000 to 2007, according to an analysis by a Washington, D.C., urban affairs think tank.

That result is hardly surprising to criminologists and public officials, mirroring findings about other major U.S. cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, according to the Urban Institute analysis, which looked at crime rates in the top 100 metro areas around the country.

Meagan Cahill, the analyst for the Urban Institute, said the findings show that contrary to recent public opinion polls that show more Americans believe crime is getting worse, the trend in major metropolitan cities showed the opposite.

Crime rates for Long Island and New York City were not individually broken out in the Urban Institute study. But a Newsday review of recent FBI major crime reporting statistics showed that the city trends appear to be the driving force in the downward trend noted by the Urban Institute. For instance, while the New York City major violent crime rate has dropped from 613.8 per 100,000 population in 2007 to 551.8 in 2009, the same rates for Nassau and Suffolk Counties bounced up and down during that period, although still lower than the city. In 2009, Nassau had a violent crime rate of 120.85 per 100,000 population; Suffolk 149.01, according to the FBI data. Violent crimes are defined as murder and non-negligent homicide, forceable rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

"The drop in New York has been the steepest," said John Feinblatt, criminal justice policy adviser for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Crime rates are lower than at any time crime has been reported."

Andrew Karmen, a professor at John Jay College of criminal justice, said that the continuing drop in the crime rate, even after the economy tanked in 2008, is a puzzle for most criminologists. "Obviously, the economy has gone much worse, joblessness, but crime has not gone up," he said. "It's an unsolved mystery."

Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey admitted that the last couple of years have been difficult in that crime has remained flat.

Police "agencies are facing a difficult economy which can drive property crime and reduce resources," said Mulvey. "It's a two-fisted problem; less resources and property crime."

FBI statistics for 2009 show an increase in serious property crimes in Nassau to 15,185 incidents of burglary, larceny and auto theft, compared with 14,847 in 2008. However, Mulvey said his department was marrying technology with intelligence-driven policing to solve burglary patterns and gang-related violence.

Suffolk County had a decrease in property crimes for 2009 to 25,141 incidents, from 26,235 the year before. Suffolk police didn't return calls for comment.

Feinblatt agreed with Karmen's assessment that crime would tend to rise during times of economic uncertainty. But they differed on why. Feinblatt strongly believes the city has used its police data and resources where it matters most to drive crime down. Karmen insisted no one can say for sure why crime has dropped.

"In the absence of any kind of consensus among experts, what we have are competing claims by self-interested parties, parties who have a clear stake in convincing us that their improved strategies have brought crime down," said Karmen.

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