Despite some scary headlines, New Yorkers should not fear a coming crime wave. Our city continues to have a near-record-low number of homicides, and our streets are safe.
As of Nov. 29, homicides in New York City are up slightly (6.7%) from 2014, which was a year of historically low crime. In 1990, the city had 2,245 homicides, in 2010 it had 536, and in 2014 it had 333. In 2015, we expect to see about 355 homicides, which is just slightly higher than the city’s total for 2013.
When homicide rates are very low, as they are this year, a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change that says less about public safety than it appears to. Homicide rates can vary widely from year to year and one year’s increase does not portend a coming wave of violence.
In fact, compared with other cities, New York is safer than it has been in years. A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, which analyzed crime in the nation’s 30 largest cities, shows that New York City had the lowest incidence of crime in the cities studied, and will continue to have the lowest rate in 2015.
New York is and remains the safest large city in America.
And while some cities have seen substantial increases in homicides this year, such as Washington, D.C. (up 49%), Baltimore (up 52%), and Charlotte (up 40%), crime overall in the cities surveyed is projected to remain largely unchanged from 2014, declining 1.5%.
This decline is part of a larger trend. Nationwide, violent crime has fallen by half since 1991. In a report last year, we found this decline was due to a variety of factors — including improved economic indicators, an aging population, higher numbers of police, and various other social and environmental changes.
Intriguingly, we found that harsh criminal justice policies, such as increased incarceration, played only a small role. We should keep this in mind when considering public policy responses to reports of rising crime, substantiated or not.
The truth is that New York City continues to be the safest it’s been in decades. Safe streets may not make for exciting headlines, but that’s probably just fine with New Yorkers.
Inimai Chettiar is director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. James Cullen is a research and program associate in the program.