Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Homicides increase in New York City, up 5% from last year

New York City is on track to reach an estimated 350 homicides this year, an increase of about 5 percent from the record low recorded in 2014, the latest crime figures show.

Through Nov. 30, the NYPD recorded 319 homicides, compared with 298 in the same period last year, an increase of 7 percent. With the city experiencing on average just under one homicide a day, the trend could bring the final number at year’s end to between 346 and 350 killings.

The increase of 21 homicides is small compared with the violent surge in killings recorded in a number of major U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Louis.

New York recorded 333 homicides in 2014, the lowest number since modern and consistent record keeping began in the early 1960s, police said. There were 335 killings in 2013. The current homicide tally reflects a rate of 3.74 deaths per 100,000 people, a number that some major U.S. cities can’t match amid escalating violence.

“It will really be the third best [year] in murders,” NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said Tuesday about the current homicide trend. “It is clear that there is a national trend [in violence]. If you look at Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago, our per capita rate is significantly lower.”

So far this year, Los Angeles has experienced an 11.2 percent homicide increase, Chicago a 12.6 percent increase, Houston 29.4 percent and Philadelphia 9.1 percent. The homicides rates per 100,000 are: Los Angeles, 6.54; Chicago, 15.35; Houston, 11.79; Philadelphia, 16; St. Louis, 38.8; and Baltimore, 49.55.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton is expected to address the city’s crime trends Wednesday during his monthly crime briefing with reporters.

“I wouldn’t ring the alarm bells at 350 [homicides], when we had 2,000 more some years ago,” said former NYPD Det. Sgt. Joseph Giacalone, now an instructor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“This underscores that New York City is in a league of its own,” Prof. Eugene O’Donnell of John Jay said of the crime trends.

O’Donnell said he thought the city’s economic vibrancy, rather than its police activity, is responsible for the continuing low crime numbers. But he said the story continues, within certain disadvantaged areas, to be one of a tale of two cities until there is an “equalization of public safety around the city.”

But Giacalone said spates of violence in Manhattan, such as the recent shooting outside Penn Station, bear watching, as will any spikes in crimes that occur in resurgent neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Criminologists and law enforcement experts are not certain about what is causing the increase in killings nationally. But some researchers are focusing on the so-called “Ferguson effect,” the reported disengagement of police from proactive policing in the wake of protests and anti-police sentiment after the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island.

Both were unarmed and died because of confrontations with police.

FBI Director James Comey recently speculated that police might be pulling back to avoid career-ending controversies. “I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior,” he said last month at the University of Chicago Law School, the Chicago Tribune reported.

But noted criminologist Richard Rosenfeld, of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said research so far hasn’t supported the Ferguson effect thesis. In one study he has reviewed, Rosenfeld said a look at police activity in 67 cities didn’t find evidence of such an impact.

Franklin Zimring, professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, also said the Ferguson effect idea doesn’t seem supported by the available data. Zimring, who wrote “The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons For Urban Crime and Its Control,” said that if police disengagement and protest caused increased homicides, it would show in New York City. Instead, the city has seen homicides decline by nearly 38 percent from 2010, even with a very minor uptick this year.

Zimring said he doesn’t think there is a pervasive nationwide increase in violent crimes, namely homicides.

“What you have is not a national trend but a lot of outliers,” Zimring said. “What you find out is there are medium and small cities with big increases.”

Notable with more killings are Baltimore and St. Louis, Zimring said, which have experienced 58 percent and 39 percent increases in homicides, respectively, this year.

Zimring’s advice for experts studying violence trends: “caution and patience.”

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