May 25, 2004

NY the safest big city

Mayor touts low crime rate on the basis of FBI preliminary report, but he bristles when asked to defend the validity of the numbers


Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted yesterday that New York City last year was once again the "safest" of the top 10 largest American cities.

In response to an FBI report released yesterday, Bloomberg announced that based on a per capita breakdown of the so-called index crimes - murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny and auto theft - New York had the least amount of crime among the top 10 largest cities last year. Chicago wasn't included on the list because officials there incorrectly reported the number of rapes.

The city had 2,922 index crimes per 100,000 population, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Dallas topped the list with 9,244 index crimes per 100,000.

New York City also ranked 24 on the list of the country's largest 25 metropolises, and 211th lowest out of the 230 U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more, Bloomberg said. Last year the city was 219 out of 230.

"New York City has not only retained its title as the safest big city in the country, it had defied the odds and become even safer," Bloomberg said, with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly next to him.

The mayor's proclamation came at a City Hall news conference prompted by the release of the FBI's preliminary Uniform Crime Report, a compilation of crime statistics submitted by nearly 12,000 law enforcement agencies around the country.

However, the FBI preliminary report didn't include a ranking or city populations. A spokesman for the FBI said any per capita crime computations of the 230 cities was the doing of "hizzoner."

Bloomberg bristled yesterday when asked by reporters to defend the validity of the numbers.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has maintained that some police supervisors, under pressure to keep crime numbers at their historic lows, are downgrading criminal complaints to avoid having them counted as an index crime.

Albert O'Leary, spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association, said they know of four precincts where officials have or are suspected of "cooking the books" and added, "we know it goes well beyond that."

Bloomberg said any suggestion the numbers aren't legitimate is "an insult to the men and women of this Police Department."

According to the FBI's report, the city's crime reduction last year came mostly through a reduction in property crimes, particularly auto thefts which were down 12.6 percent.

Violent crime was down by 6.9 percent in the city but that was only slightly better than the other nine million-plus population U.S. cities, which averaged a 6.5 percent decrease. But while the other large cities had less than a 1 percent decrease in property crimes, New York City went down by 5.4 percent.

New York City not only has the largest police force, at nearly 37,000 members, but also the most cops per capita, with one officer per every 215 residents. That type of protection comes with a big price tag, the mayor said, estimating that between the police budget, pensions and other costs the city is paying more than $5 billion a year.