NEW YORK CITY — Incoming Police Commissioner William Bratton will have to face a sobering reality when he takes over — serious crime in New York has gone up over the past two years.
According to NYPD statistics, overall crime for the city's seven major categories — murder, robbery, rape, assault, grand larceny, burglaries and car theft — is up nearly 4 percent over that time.
This overall rise has been led by a sharp increase in grand larcenies and assaults.
Through Nov. 24, grand larcenies are up 6.6 percent this year, from 37,891 last year to 40,402 for the same period — and it is up 17 percent over the past two years, according to police data.
Police officials blame this increase on the rising number of thefts of flashy cell phones and other tech gadgets, and identity theft from credit cards.
The number of assaults has risen 2.4 percent through Nov. 24, from 17,726 last year to 18,154, and a total of 7.7 percent during the past 24 months.
Rapes are also up .09 percent during the past two years.
These crime increases have outdistanced the impressive decline in homicides, which has fallen by 20.1 percent this year, from 379 to 303.
And the murder drop has been accompanied by a 20.7 percent decline in shootings, from 1,268 to 1,012 incidents. Officials attribute much of that success to strategies targeting gang activities.
As for the grand larcenies, NYPD and city officials are trying to come up with ways to thwart the criminal appetite for iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices.
The initiatives include lobbying manufacturers and wireless carriers to install so-called "kill switches" in the devices that render them useless — and therefore worthless — once they are stolen.
But both those industries, which make about $6 billion replenishing stolen items, have resisted the push.
And there are other issues complicating the NYPD's mission to keep New York the safest big city, ranging from the size of the force to the way Bratton will have to re-tool how New York’s Finest conducts its stops-and-frisks.
"The challenges are things like manpower," one official said. "We are paying attention to things we never did before. There is a large terrorism component, but there are also certain issues such as domestic violence, which is now an intense program, along with policing the schools."
Another police official observed: "There is a constant drumbeat from precinct commanders that they simply need more personnel to put on patrol because the department is stretched fairly thin."
For his part, de Blasio has said he believes the force is at an appropriate level, presently around 35,000, and he has no immediate plans to expand it. At a press conference announcing Bratton's appointment Thursday, the mayor-elect and his new commissioner said they will conduct a “resource allocation” study to determine if the size of the force is correct and, if so, how to make changes to better utilize it.
Bratton was previously praised for skillfully deploying his resources during stints at One Police Plaza and as head of the transit police in the 1990s.
But navigating the profound issues raised by the recent stop-and-frisk controversy that resulted in an NYPD Inspector General and possibly a federal monitor will further complicate the department's core mission of fighting crime, observers say.
Several experts fear that a sudden sharp drop in NYPD stop-and-frisks may embolden criminals to start carrying guns. But, as de Blasio pointed out, Bratton managed to reduce crime in Los Angeles while working with a federal monitor.
"With the city in the throes of the best crime numbers it has had in half a century," a former top police official said, "it is hard to think that we have not already hit bottom considering the numbers are already ticking upward.
“And then there is a shooting in Bryant Park, one of the city's safest places, and it's over a coat, and it evokes the worst period of crime in New York," the official continued. "It gives people pause about what the crime-fighting philosophy will be.”
But Thomas Reppetto, author of "NYPD: A City And Its Police" and the former president of the Citizens Crime Commission, pointed out that the NYPD has a two-decade record of successfully tackling crime issues.
In fact, he noted, despite the uptick in larceny and assaults, several other key crime indicators in addition to murder remain down over the past two years, notably robbery by 2.2 percent and burglary by 7 percent.
"I am going to keep an open mind, but I know what has brought crime down, and it has been pro-active policing," Reppetto said. "Now we are going to see how it works with the police doing everything the so-called right way.”