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The shootings in Manhattan or the assaults in Central Park are increasingly a thing of the past or fiction: New York is at its best in decades in terms of security.
The phenomenon is corroborated by figures: the most populous city in the United States had 290 homicides in 2017 according to official data, the lowest figure since 1951, when it began to keep comparable records.
If measured against 2016, murders in New York fell by 13.5%, and if they are equated with the population level, the homicide rate for 2017 was 3.4 per 100,000 residents , far from the 30.7 There was in 1990.
“No other great city experienced that fall,” says Franklin Zimring, an expert at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the book “The City that Became Safe: Lessons from New York for Urban Crime and its Control “.
Moreover, in this metropolis of 8.5 million inhabitants, shootings, assaults, robberies and arrests also went down.
An exception in this scenario were the reports of rapes, which increased in 2017 with respect to the previous year , something that the police associate with the wave of complaints of sexual harassment that surrounds celebrities throughout the United States.
The New York authorities are satisfied with what has been achieved.
“Nobody believed it was possible to have less than 300 murders,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said this month, while police commissioner James O’Neill said at his side: ” New York is not the violent nightmare we once read in the press, we watched on TV or saw in movies. “
When interpreting this phenomenon, specialists use different data and theories that often disagree with each other.
However, some explanations may help to better understand this drastic fall in crime in New York. We show you four:
1. More cops
One of the changes that accompanied the improvement of security in New York was the increase of at least 35% in the number of police officers in the city between 1990 and 2000, when it exceeded 53,000 officials according to official data.
It was the largest increase in police numbers in that decade in any US metropolis. with more than 250,000 inhabitants.
The difference was more significant in some areas: the number of narcotics police officers more than doubled in New York that decade.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center, the number of police assigned to counterterrorism tasks in the city increased and the number of officials dedicated to preventing street crimes decreased.
The interesting thing, says Zimring, is that even then New York managed to maintain in the following years the added value in its security that it gained during the decade of 1990.
2. New technology
Of course, a greater number of police on the streets is far from guaranteeing a reduction in crime. But in the case of New York, that was accompanied by a key change at a technological level.
“They entered computerized systems so that the police chief knew where the police were deployed, where the crimes were committed and what impact the police deployment had on crime rates,” says Zimring.
“Before you had those computers, you did not know where the cops were, they could be eating donuts all the time!” He adds.
The computerized system was called CompStat and was implemented by the New York Police after 1994 with as much success as other US cities. They followed the example, although with dissimilar results.
Added to this were other changes such as the arrival of first and smart cell phones afterwards.
” People can call the police immediately, they can record on video and there is more vigilance going on, ” says Eugene O’Donnell, an ex-clerk and ex-prosecutor in New York who is currently a professor at the John Jay College of Justice. penal.
Recently the city has incorporated more technology to modernize its police force, including a system called ShotSpotter to detect shots using special sensors.
3. Change of strategy
This is one of the points that generates more controversy, even among experts: what was the change in police strategy that contributed to increase the security of New York?
There are those who associate the phenomenon with “zero tolerance” or the “broken windows theory” that city authorities claimed in the past, aggressively monitoring minor violations of the law to prevent more serious crimes.
However, others deny that this is the secret behind the decline of crimes in New York.
“You can not reduce the homicide rate by 83% by going to marginal neighborhoods in decline, you have to go where the homicides are happening, and that’s exactly what they did,” says Zimring.
He adds that one of the police strategies was to put an end to the public markets for the sale of drugs in different parts of the city, where the violent dispute over controlling the best spots contributed to the increase in homicides.
The retail sale of drugs continued, but in a more discreet and less bloody way.
Also, the NYPD considerably reduced its “stop and frisk” policy, that is, registering pedestrians, after the court decided in 2013 that it violates constitutional guarantees and discriminates against Latinos and blacks, because they tend to be more detained than whites.
Although that aggressive police tactic has been defended by President Donald Trump, his critics point out that the crime in New York continued to fall after that court ruling.
The mayor of Blasio, a Democrat facing President Donald Trump, has placed emphasis on improving trust between citizens and police , attributing the fall in crime in New York to the strategy of persecuting the groups responsible for a large part of the crimes. crimes that are committed.
4. People and money
Another key to the improvement of security in New York is the changes that the city has had from the economic and social point of view.
“The city used to be a place to avoid, people were fleeing, and now it’s one of the most valuable real estate in the world, ” says ex-policeman and former District Attorney O’Donnell. “Living in New York has become a precious commodity.”
The fall of crime is closely related to “macro-level factors,” warns BBC World James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, an organization that evaluates criminal justice practices.
In his opinion, these factors include interest rates, inflation, unemployment or even female fertility.
“Women are having children later, and they are having less,” says Austin. He adds that this increases control in the home and contributes to a significant decrease in juvenile arrests.
“All these macro-level factors show a very strong suppressive effect on the crime rate,” he says.