Crime in New York City

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Violent crime in New York City has decreased in the last fifteen years, and the murder rate in 2007 was at its lowest since at least 1963 when reliable statistics were first kept. Crime rates spiked in the 1980s and early 1990s as the crack epidemic hit the city. During the 1990s the NYPD adopted CompStat, broken windows policing and other strategies in a major effort to reduce crime. The city’s dramatic drop in crime has been attributed by criminologists to these policing tactics, the end of the crack epidemic and demographic changes. Most of the crime remaining occurs in poor areas, which tend to be outlying.

Organized crime has long been associated with New York City, beginning with the Forty Thieves and the Roach Guards in the Five Points in the 1820s. The 20th century saw a rise in the Mafia dominated by the Five Families. Gangs including the Black Spades and Supreme Team also grew in the late 20th century. Numerous major riots have occurred in New York City since the mid 19th century, including the Draft Riots in 1863, the Stonewall riots, multiple riots at Tompkins Square Park, and in Harlem. The serial killings by the ‘Son of Sam,’ which began in 1976 and terrorized the city for the next year.

In 1835, the New York Herald was established by James Gordon Bennett, Sr., who helped revolutionize journalism by covering stories that appeal to the masses including crime reporting. When Helen Jewett was murdered in 1836, Bennett did innovative on-the-scene investigation and reporting and helped bring the story to national attention. At the time, New York City’s population of 320,000 was served by an archaic force, consisting of one night watch, one hundred city marshals, thirty-one constables, fifty-one police officers. Peter Cooper, at request of the Common Council, drew up a proposal to create a police force of 1,200 officers. The state legislature approved the proposal which authorized creation of a police force in 1844, along with abolition of the nightwatch system.

In the 20th century, notorious New York-based mobsters Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano made headlines. The century’s later decades are more famous for Mafia prosecutions (and prosecutors like Rudolph Giuliani) than for the influence of the Five Families. Violent gangs such as the Black Spades and the Westies influenced crime in the 1970s. The Bloods and Crips gangs of Los Angeles arrived in the city in the 1980s, but gained notoriety when they appeared on Rikers Island in 1993 to fight off the already established Latin Kings gang. In 1980, famous musician John Lennon was shot, which spiked New York’s crimes.

Crime in New York City was high in the 1980s during the Mayor Edward I. Koch years, as the crack epidemic hit New York City, and peaked in 1990, the first year of Mayor David Dinkins’ administration (1990–1994). During the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (1994–2002), there was a precipitous drop in crime in his first term, continuing at a slower rate in both his second term and under Mayor Michael Bloomberg (2002–present). Many commentators have suggested that the New York City Police Department’s adoption of CompStat, broken windows policing, and other strategies during the administration of Rudolph Giuliani were responsible for the drop in crime, some studies argued that the dramatic reduction in crime was strongly correlated with the increases in the number of police officers that started under Mayor Dinkins and continued through the Giuliani administration.

‘Freakonomics,’ authors Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner attribute the drop in crime to the legalization of abortion in the seventies, as they suggest that many of the would-be neglected children and criminals were never born. On the other hand Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘The Tipping Point’ argues that crime was an epidemic and a small reduction by the police was enough to tip the balance.

Starting in 2005, New York City achieved the lowest crime rate among the ten largest cities in the United States. Since 1991, the city has seen a continuous fifteen-year trend of decreasing crime. Neighborhoods that were once considered dangerous are now much safer. Violent crime in the city has dropped by three quarters in the twelve years ending in 2005 with the murder rate at its lowest then level since 1963 with only 539 murders that year, for a murder rate of 6.58 per 100,000 people, compared to 2,245 murders in 1990.

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