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Some Republicans say New York is in the grips of a crime wave. Experts say not at all

A critic of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is led out of the room by police during a House Judiciary Committee field hearing on violent crime in New York on April 17.
Spencer Platt
/
Getty Images
A critic of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is led out of the room by police during a House Judiciary Committee field hearing on violent crime in New York on April 17.

Following former President Donald Trump's indictment in New York, various Republicans have accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of enabling a crime wave in the city. Earlier this week, members of the House Judiciary Committee even held a hearing in Manhattan regarding the city's crime issue.

The committee chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio, described New York as "a city that has lost its way ... here in Manhattan, the scales of justice are weighed down by politics. For the district attorney justice isn't blind, it's about looking for opportunities to advance a political agenda: a radical political agenda."

The committee heard testimony from survivors and family members of victims of crimes throughout the city, includingJose Alba, a worker at a store in Harlem who was assaulted by two customers. He killed one of them in self-defense and was charged with murder. Those charges were eventually dropped, but Alba says the ordeal is far from over. "I am now traumatized from the incident. I am not working because I am terrified for my life that someone in a gang will come after me for revenge," Alba says.

New Yorkers have mixed reaction about whether crime is a concern

While there is a belief among some Republicans that New York is in the midst of a crime wave, ask New Yorkers how concerned they are about crime and you'll get all kinds of different answers. Among them: a sense of doom, that the city is heading back into the bad old days. But these visions are distinctly at odds with the data. Experts say crime rates in the city have in fact been decreasing. So what's up with the difference between perception and reality?

Chris David was born and raised in Brooklyn but currently lives in Queens. He's 50, and he worries about his daughters. He sees the news about shootings involving young people in parts of New York and thinks "it's getting worse now than it was in the '90s." He blames it on leniency and bail reform.

Just one block down from where he's walking his dog in his neighborhood, Lucy Nystrom, 28, has a completely different take. She says she feels very safe, although she acknowledges that "there's definitely issues with mental health in New York City. I think it's always been a problem here, and I think it's being handled really poorly."

At a press conference Tuesday — the day after the committee hearing — neither Mayor Eric Adams nor New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell acknowledged Rep. Jordan's hearing. Instead, they announced the indictment of a group that was targeting nightclubs, drugging primarily gay men and robbing them. Two people died of overdoses.

Experts say New York is not experiencing a crime wave

So is it accurate to say New York in the grips of a crime wave?

Some experts say not at all.

"Putting shooting and homicide crimes into context, we're a much safer city than we were 30 years ago," says assistant professor Christopher Herrmann, a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He's formerly with the NYPD and has been studying the city's crime trends for years. Herrmann says last year there were 438 murders; there were nearly 2,000 three decades ago, in 1993.

Ahead of the hearing, Herrmann decided to compare New York City crime rates with rates in Columbus, Ohio, which Congressman Jordan represents. "We see that you're 4.3 times more likely to be killed in Columbus, Ohio, than Manhattan. And you see that 7.3 times as many cars per capita are being stolen in Columbus, Ohio, than in Manhattan."

It's a downward trend that continues for New York. According to NYPD, in March 2023, New York City saw a 26.1% drop in shooting incidents compared to this time last year. And homicides fell by 11.4%.

So why are some New Yorkers alarmed? One reason might be that crimes spiked quite significantlyduring the pandemic. But Herrmann points out that this was not a phenomenon exclusive to New York. Crime soared across the U.S., especially carjackings. There was also a spike in hate crimes, particularly anti-Asian.

The good news is that things have been settling down, and the downward trend is continuing: Crime rates have been dropping precipitously since the '90s in New York. There is one caveat, he says: While there are fewer shootings in the city, an increasing percentage of them are by and against young people.

But unfortunately, Herrmann says, that's alsoa nationwide problem.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 19, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the audio of this story, as in a previous web version, we incorrectly say New York City had nearly 2,000 murders a decade ago. In fact, that was the number in 1993.
Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.