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Transit crime sees 2018 uptick thanks to grand larcenies, pickpocket rings

Overall crime throughout the city dropped, however, including homicides and shootings.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that historically underreported

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that historically underreported rapes in New York City are "finally being reported" during 2019's first crime statistics report in East New York on Thursday. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

As 2019 kicked off, officials reported Thursday an uptick in overall transit crime for 2018. The increase was largely due to an increase in grand larcenies and crimes by internationally-based pickpocketing teams.

The subways saw a 3.8 percent increase in total crime in 2018 compared to 2017, according to NYPD statistics — a total increase of 95 reported crimes, or a total of 2,569.

Chief of Transit Edward Delatorre said in Manhattan alone there was an increase of 99 grand larcenies. He added that despite the increase, the subway still averaged about one crime per million riders each day. 

He said the grand larcenies were driven by thefts of expensive headphones and cellphones, as well as wallets. 

In addition to the crimes committed by locals on the subway, he said several international "professional pickpocket teams" from places like Colombia and Chile also hit the city in 2018, further driving up the numbers. He said the teams tend to work for a week or two in New York City before moving on to another city (one was wanted in Kansas City). 

"We caught a few of them and they were being prosecuted," he said. "And then we have a group of our homegrown, we call them Nifty 50 ... that just work the system constantly.

"We have very, very good plainclothes officers working the transit system," Delatorre said, adding: "What we saw was a trend where recidivist offenders had gotten out of jail, come back into the system and once again started taking advantage of some of our riders. We caught many of them at this point and we're now seeing the numbers stabilize and go back to normal, where we normally would be." 

Ultimately transit crime is significantly lower than the late 1990s, when there were more than 4,000 crimes a day on the subways. 

"We will not be returning to that level, and the slight increase that we're seeing this year: We know where it is, we know the geography of it and we're starting to make sure it goes down," Chief of Police James O'Neill said.

Rapes throughout the city also were up last year, resulting in an increase of 22.4 percent from 2017, according to NYPD statistics. Officials attributed the increase to the #MeToo movement and a rise in reporting. O'Neill said the NYPD also overhauled its Special Victims Unit after a review earlier last year that followed a Department of Investigation report that accused the NYPD of understaffing it.

In 2018, there was an 60.4 percent increase in rapes reported from a previous year. Of the 1,795 rapes reported last year, 401 of them occurred during a previous year, according to the department. Of those, 154 occurred in 2017, and 129 occurred in 2013 or earlier. 

A total of 92.8 percent of rapes reported in 2018 were either domestic violence or acquaintance-related (an increase of 23.6 percent from 2017), according to the department. There were 129 stranger rapes reported last year, which was similar to the 125 stranger rapes reported in 2017.

An arrest is made in about 40 percent of reported cases, the NYPD said.

"This is a profoundly important issue, but we're dealing with a new reality ... where the advocates and the NYPD believe the same thing based on the information they have, that a historic underreporting is finally being addressed," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "This has been a very consistent pattern for quite a while now ... What we understand is this is tragically what was happening for a long time but not being reported, it is finally being reported."

Despite the rises in reported rapes and transit crimes, overall crime throughout the city dropped, including homicides and shooting incidents. There was a decrease of 1.3 percent in total crimes in 2018, totaling what officials dubbed the lowest recorded number of incidents in decades.

The NYPD recorded 289 homicides in 2018 — a 1 percent decrease from 2017, and the second consecutive year with less than 300. There also were 4.4 percent fewer shooting incidents across the same time period, according to the department.

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