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Violent Crime Jump Is Manhattan's Lump of Coal This Christmas

By Murray Weiss | December 22, 2010 6:15pm
Pedestrians cross the street as a New York City Police vehicle blocks off part of 34th St. in Manhattan on December 20, 2010.
Pedestrians cross the street as a New York City Police vehicle blocks off part of 34th St. in Manhattan on December 20, 2010.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By Murray Weiss

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

Today I play the role of the "Ghost of Christmas Future."

It's not a character I relish while discussing crime in Manhattan.

But the FBI issued a chilly report this week on violence in America that landed like a lump of coal for residents of this fair city just in time for the holidays – if anyone else was listening.

The feds' semi-annual crime report claimed that "the nation experienced a 6.2 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes and 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes" for the first half of the year.

Not so in New York. Violent crime in the city jumped 6.8 percent during the first six months of 2010, the FBI said. That means the city is moving in the opposite direction of the country, and is poised to lose its sacred status as America’s safest big city. The mayor and police commissioner enjoy touting that status, particularly at this time of year.

Why is this so foreboding?

New York has been the national bellwether for crime decline as the city recorded nearly 18 consecutive years of violent crime reductions – even when the nation was experiencing increases.

Any large-scale turn for murders, rapes, robberies and burglaries here in Manhattan and across the city means New York is now moving the wrong way. And although FBI crime reports are based on statistics revealed publicly months earlier, this specific report foreshadows what’s to come. An examination of NYPD crime stats through last Sunday shows violence and shootings continued to climb in the second half of the year.

As of last Sunday, murder was up 13.7 percent; rape is up 15.9 (and 50 percent in Manhattan, thanks in part to the popularity of binge drinking); and robberies, the most important crime category, is up 5 percent.

As I peer into Christmas Future, I see a darker landscape on the horizon with the NYPD shrinking even further given the economy and dire talk of budget cutbacks from City Hall. There are presently about 34,000 cops in the city — a steep drop from a high of 42,000 in 2002. Anyone who thinks there is no correlation between the size of the police force and levels of crime should listen to speeches by former Commissioner William Bratton about how "Cops Matter."

During the 1980s, there were roughly 27,000 cops fighting a tidal wave of crime. Skyrocketing crack-related violence held the city by the throat. Women literally stopped wearing jewelry in the subway. The elderly remained locked in their apartments. Every third car on the street seemed to have a shattered window from thieves trying to find anything of value.

Finally, in 1992, the city decided it had to spend money to dramatically expand the force after the murder toll topped 2,200 – or six every day. Raymond Kelly remembers those frightening times. He was police commissioner inheriting the Herculean task of fighting crime, but Rudolph Giuliani had different plans in mind. He brought in Bratton who, along with his brilliant aide, Jack Maple, created Compstat, holding commanders’ feet to the crime-fighting fire.

Maple famously drafted the NYPD’s strategies on napkins in Elaine’s restaurant. Those ideas, coupled with the additional troops, started toppling crime like dominos. Every category fell precipitously.

Out of the box, murders were cut in half in just a few years. I remember in the mid-1990s asking Maple how far he thought the murder rate could fall. At the time, there were about 1,100 annually. Maple predicted about 450.

I thought he was as crazy as he looked – Maple wore bow ties, bola hats and two-tone spectator shoes.

In 2009, the murder toll hit 466. It took a while, but there it was “about 450,” as the late Jack Maple said.

As of last Sunday, there were 516 killings so far this year.

"I think we have been doing incredible things for a very long time," said one of the most informed insiders in the NYPD. "And sometimes . . .you hit bottom."