Wall Street Journal
March 30, 2010

New York Homicides Rise a Bit In 2010


For years, New York City's homicide rate has steadily plummeted, in one of the most widely touted success stories in modern policing.

Number of homicides in NYCThis year, it has ticked slightly upward.

While the number of killings remains near historic lows, there were 109 homicides through March 28, compared to 89 a year earlier, according to New York Police Department statistics. Some of the killings have been jarring and gotten big play in the local press, including the stabbing deaths of two young Brooklyn men on a subway train in Manhattan early Sunday.

Given that homicides tend to increase during the summer, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne, it is likely there will be something close to 500 homicides this year, the third-lowest total since 1963. Last year, the total was 466, the fewest since the department began tracking such statistics in 1963.

"We're fighting our own good record, basically, in terms of perception," Mr. Browne said. "We've had [overall] crime declines every year and declines in murders almost every year. So there's been an expectation that every year is going to be lower than the next...historically it's still one of the lowest."

The city has cut its police force in recent years, to about 35,000. That's about 5,000 fewer officers than were on the force when Raymond Kelly became commissioner in 2002.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the union that represents 22,000 NYPD patrol officers, called the trend worrisome. "The lack of uniformed police officers patrolling neighborhoods has emboldened the criminals who once again feel free to carry guns and use them in their crimes," he said. Still, Andrew Karmen, a sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, urged caution about looking for trends in less than three months of data. "This whole hullabaloo is a little premature," he said. "Frankly, this has happened before.

There have been bad stretches, and each time it happens there are some questions about whether this is the beginning of the end of crime reductions...it's just way too early to say."

The uptick in homicides, according to statistics through March 21, is attributable to a handful of the city's 76 precincts. Twenty-six precincts have seen an increase, mostly by a single homicide; 20 have fewer homicides than last year, also mostly by one, and 31 have the same number. Of the 76 precincts, 32 have no homicides.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the overall increase: "Do I worry about it? I worry about it all the time, as does Commissioner Kelly. Is there any reason for the public to feel less safe? No." Overall crime is down more than 2% in 2010, according to the NYPD statistics.

In response to the suicide attacks that killed 38 in two Moscow subway stations Monday, the NYPD assigned extra officers to subway stations and transit hubs and took other steps. "I do think about safety in the subway, but it has to do more with national safety issues," said Doug Degannes, 32 years old, who works near Houston Street in Manhattan and frequently uses the subway. station where Sunday's killings happened.

—Joel Stonington and Michael Howard Saul contributed to this article.