The New York Times

May 25, 2004

Crime Declines, But Union And
Mayor Spar Over Data


TMhe decline of overall serious crime in New York City outpaced the crime rate in the nation as a whole in 2003, according to a Police Department analysis of F.B.I. statistics, prompting Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday to renew his boast that New York is the safest large city in the country.

Mr. Bloomberg, flanked by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, said the city's crime decline, as recorded by the F.B.I., put New York close to the bottom of the list of cities across the country with more than 100,000 inhabitants -- 211th of 230, dropping eight positions below its position in 2002. Among the cities with a population of more than one million, the city ranks 24th out of 25.

''That means there's only 19 cities in the entire country of 100,000 population or more than have fewer crimes per capita,'' he said. ''We are now between Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Fremont, Calif., two great metropolises who also enjoy low crime, and we wish them all the best.''

The F.B.I. data, released on Sunday, is based on uniform crime reports provided by police departments around the country. The New York City Police Department compared the F.B.I. figures for New York with other cities' to produce the ranking, a police official said.

Overall felony crime -- murder, rape, robbery, assault, grand larceny, auto theft and burglary -- dropped 5.8 percent, nearly a dozen times the national average drop of 0.5 percent for all cities, Mr. Bloomberg said, despite a smaller force and the department's new counterterrorism responsibilities.

The reported crime declines in New York City represent 25.7 percent of the national decrease for 2003, and since 2001, the city's crime decline has accounted for 49.6 percent of the national decrease, Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Kelly credited the work of rank-and-file officers and Operation Impact, a department program that floods small problem areas with Police Academy recruits accompanied by more experienced officers.

The police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has charged that precinct commanders feel such intense pressure to drive down crime that they ''cook the books,'' reducing the severity of crimes on paper to avoid recording them among the seven index crimes reported to the F.B.I.

A union spokesman, Albert O'Leary, said yesterday that the average police precinct had declined by 70 officers in recent years, increasing the pressure on commanders. The department's overall head count has declined by more than 4,000 officers since its peak in October 2000.

Mr. Bloomberg bristled at a reporter's question about the union's accusations.

''Let's get serious, it's an insult to the people in this city,'' Mr. Bloomberg said, adding, ''These are F.B.I. numbers; do you really think someone is going to falsify these numbers?'' He added that the department's statistics are audited.