By Jonathan Sperling
It was a record-breaking year for crime in New York City — in a good way.
Top NYPD brass joined Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference Tuesday to announce that New York City had the lowest number of reported crimes during the first six months of 2018 than in any previous six-month period.
According to the NYPD’s statistics, overall crime dropped by 1.8 percent citywide during the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period last year.
In parts of Queens, the decrease in crime is even more impressive. The Queens South region recorded a 6.9 percent overall decrease in crime and Queens North recorded a 2.5 percent drop compared to the same time last year, said Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown.
“As the NYPD’s most recent CompStat numbers show, overall crime throughout New York City continues to dip and Queens has contributed to that downward trend with an overall reduction in crime throughout the borough,” Brown said.
Brown said his office has focused on “turning lives around where possible” through alternatives to incarceration programs like Queens Mental Health Court and the Queens Treatment Intervention Program.
At the press conference Tuesday, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan touted the use of neighborhood policing and an innovative Gun Violence Crisis Management System as two major contributors to the citywide reduction in crime, especially in Queens.
The Gun Violence Crisis system is designed to reduce gun violence in the 17 precincts that account for 51 percent of shootings citywide. In Queens, those high gun-crime areas include the 101st Precinct in Far Rockaway, the 113th Precinct in South Jamaica and the 114th Precinct, which covers the Queensbridge and Ravenswood NYCHA residences.
“While the overall crime rate continues to fall in New York City, it remains our top priority to forcefully combat the spikes in murder and other crimes where we know persistent pockets of crime still exist,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said.
O’Neill specifically praised the efforts of anti-gun crime activist Erica Ford, who he said helped halt a number of potentially violent conflicts in Jamaica, and the work of “violence interrupters” at the Queensbridge Houses, the largest housing project in the country.
The violence interrupters — often former gang members who have turned their lives around — work to squash beef on the streets and connect potential shooters to support services.
“Look at the work [the violence interrupters] did over in Queensbridge,” O’Neill said. “I know there [have] been some shootings in Queensbridge this year but then I think they went 15 months without a shooting or a homicide, which is incredible. A lot of that work [was] done by the violence interrupters.”
Several crime categories saw historics drops. Robberies went down 6.4 percent, burglaries were down 5.4 percent, grand theft auto was down 2.2 percent and shooting incidents were down 5.6 percent.
However, the most violent crimes spiked after recording historic lows last year.
Murder increased by 8.1 percent and rape reports rose by 33.2 percent, which Monahan said could be the result of more people, especially women, coming forward to report sexual assault.
“We continue to be encouraged by the increase in this highly underreported crime,” Monahan said. “Rape, we always know, has been an often under-reported crime. Statistically, nationally, they say it’s one of the most under-reported crimes there are. So, we’ve been pushing people to come out and report it.”
In New York City and nationwide, the #MeToo movement has helped empower women to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions. On Monday, film producer Harvey Weinstein, whose alleged history of rape helped launch the movement, returned to court in Manhattan to to face a third set of sexual assault charges.
A spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said the connection between more rape reports and the #MeToo Movement is not explicit, however.
“Certainly the #MeToo Movement may have contributed to a climate of increased comfort in reporting rapes and sexual abuse, but complainants have not specifically articulated that to us as a factor in influencing their decision to come forward,” the spokesperson said.
According to the City, the NYPD made 17,000 fewer arrests over the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period last year. The figure marks an 11.5 percent drop.
The decrease comes shortly after the announcement of a new policy on marijuana enforcement enacted by the City and the NYPD in June. Starting Sept. 1, NYPD officers are instructed to issue summonses to people committing low-level marijuana offenses, rather than make arrests.
The revised policy was put in place to curb the enormous racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 89 percent of all marijuana arrests between January and March 2018, despite people of all races using marijuana at similar rates, the City said.
Despite the positive overall statistics, police watchdogs say they remain skeptical of the way NYPD determine crime numbers.
“You never trust the numbers produced by the agency whose success or failure relies on the numbers,” said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. “The NYPD and Mayor’s office have been putting out numbers that drop every year since the early 90s.”
Gangi said that community behavior, not policing, is responsible for falling crime.
“We don’t trust the numbers, but at the same time we recognize that crime has dropped significantly in the city from the 80s and 90s until now,” he said. “Whether or not the police are responsible is another question.”