amNY series, day two: Keeping an eye on crime
With the economy in free fall, amNewYork examines how the budget crisis might impact the city's quality of life. This is day two of a three-day series. Read the first-day installments: Preventing a 70s decline, Breslin Q&A, and Henican column.
Murder, rape, and robbery citywide are up slightly this year, and while its impossible to say whats driving the increases, residents in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn have a theory: Its the economy, stupid.
This neighborhood has really gentrified really rapidly, and coupled with the economy, crime has gone up, said Michael Jester, 27, who has witnessed violent robberies and has a friend who was beaten for her iPod, cell phone and purse. I feel theres a real tension in the past year. They seem to be getting a lot more brazen in the middle of the day.
Experts will tell you that a tanking economy does not necessarily mean crime rates will soar, and said its too soon to draw a correlation this early into the economic crisis.
Still, observers note that crime remains at historic lows, and there is little reason to believe we are at the start of a precipitous safety decline. But Mayor Michael Bloombergs plan to combat city deficits by cutting a police academy class next year undoubtedly will be felt on the streets."We will be at the lowest level on the police force since I came to the council in 1997," Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) said at a recent budget hearing. "It's a dangerous game to play when public safety is compromised."
The police force is about 36,000 strong and could drop to 34,000 with recruit class cuts, according to Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens), chair of the council public safety committee. It peaked at 41,000 during the Giuliani administration. About 1,100 cadets would have been in the police academy class.
I can tell you that the police commissioner and the fire commissioner's job is to do more with less and I think they are more than up to it, Bloomberg said recently. The police commissioner's job, if you remember, was made particularly difficult when we came into office and he had to do more with 3,000 fewer cops and he brought crime down.
Councilwoman Letitia James, a Democrat who represents Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, is not so sure. She recently started a task force to combat a spike in robberies, burglaries and other crimes in the area. In fact, she plans to organize neighborhood crime watches.
Call me in six months, she said. I would have to sound the alarm because I do not want to return to the days of the seventies when the quality of life was an issue in Brooklyn.
Areas in the city that have seen increases in crime include Staten Islands 123rd Precinct, where community leaders contend a rapid growth in population is partially to blame.
Too many guns on the street have led to spates in violent crimes in areas around South Jamaica, according to the community board there where crime is up almost 9 percent in the 113th Precinct.
The police department did not respond to requests for comment on the specific increases but said in a statement: Crime in New York City continues to decrease to record levels.
Some experts said that increases in crime can be statistically misleading when the number of crimes committed is low.
Richard Aborn, a crime expert and former president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, said its too soon to tell if hot spots will remain hot through the end of the year, and if the economy or police class cuts will affect crime next year.
The NYPD is very skilled at watching crime trends and tamper them down quickly, he said. We dont know which way it will go yet. A blip is not a trend.
Jason Fink contributed to this report.