Monday, January 10, 2011

Crime Rates

In this Wall Street Journal article examining the crime rates in New York City, the larger issue of crime rate policy—and the politics involved in setting it—are also looked at.

An excerpt.

“For 2010, New York City is once again on pace to record an annual decrease in major crimes, even as the New York Police Department was placed under unprecedented pressure to justify its crime figures.

“Based on the latest NYPD statistics, overall crime was down 1.4% through Sunday compared with the same period in 2009. However, murder, rape, robbery and felony assault remain higher than last year. While burglaries also spiked, other property crimes such as grand larceny and vehicle theft declined.

“Rapes are up 15% this year and robberies have risen by 5.1%. Felony assaults are up 0.7%; shooting incidents climbed 3.6%.

“Through Wednesday, there were 526 homicides in the city—a 13.4% increase from last year's record low of 465 on the same date, police said. By the end of 2009, the city had recorded 471 murders in total, also a record low and the eighth year in a row that there were less than 600 murders.

“But in keeping with the conventional wisdom that one can't hide bodies, murder numbers have not been the source of contention in a year where the index-crime rate is expected to register a decline for the 22nd consecutive time.

“Critics have charged that the police department is manipulating statistics by downgrading many property crimes to minor offenses that don't show up in the official crime rate. That theory was put forth by Eli Silverman, a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-author of a study challenging the accuracy of the NYPD's statistics.

“Mr. Silverman and John Eterno, associate dean of graduate studies in criminal justice at Molloy College, believe pressure to keep the crime rate dropping, even as the NYPD has seen its number of officers shrink by about 5,000 in recent years, has led to statistical manipulation. They point to the audiotapes that Brooklyn police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded that led to a deputy inspector, two sergeants and two officers being hit with administrative charges in October related to failing to take crime reports.

“On Monday, the NYPD began posting data on citywide misdemeanor-crime complaints dating back 10 years, partly in response to claims that withholding such statistics indicated it had something to hide.

“A Wall Street Journal analysis of those numbers, assisted by professors on both sides of the statistics debate, found there were no obvious trends to indicate that index crimes were being downgraded into misdemeanors.”