UPPER MANHATTAN — The Washington Heights and Inwood of today stands in stark contrast to the neighborhoods’ violence and drug addled past of the late 1980s and 1990s.
Families and professional who live uptown know the bounty neighborhoods above 155th Street have to offer — multiple farmers' markets, abundant parkland and a burgeoning nightlife — but few knew their homes are in two of the overall safest neighborhoods in all of Manhattan.
DNAinfo.com’s groundbreaking Crime & Safety Report, which pairs NYPD crime statistics and 2010 U.S. census data to rank crime rates per capita, found Inwood and Washington Heights came in as the third and fourth safest neighborhoods out of 17 in Manhattan during 2010.
Only the Upper East Side and Upper West Side ranked higher.
Inwood and Washington Heights were ranked 23 and 24 out of 57 neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, ranking safer than Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Downtown Manhattan and Gramercy Park.
In Inwood, shooting incidents and murders were down by more than 90 percent, to nine and four, respectively.
In Washington Heights, which is covered by the 33rd and 34th precincts, crime was actually up 21 percent since the early '90s when the area reported more than 100 murders each year, but in 2010 overall crime rates remained stable.
For many who have tracked a recent uptick in crime that resulted in two new commanding officers in the 34th Precinct over the course of 15 months, the ranking comes as a surprise.
“I don't know how to reconcile that uptick with what we're now told is a relatively safe area,” said Inwood resident Keith Snyder, who revamped a neighborhood patrol after a string of sexual assaults took place in June. “Is it just that every area is getting more dangerous, but ours isn't accelerating fastest?”
The ranking shows a neighborhood far from the Washington Heights of the '90s when the former president of the nonprofit group Citizens Crime Commission Thomas Repetto was asked to don a bullet proof vest during a neighborhood ride along with police.
"That tells you something about it then, and how much it has changed now," Repetto, who wrote "The NYPD: A City and its Police," told DNAinfo.
Despite the positive ranking and obvious change over the past two decades, 2011 has shown an uptick in crime that has left many residents and community leaders worried that the area could slip back to its crime ridden past.
Elected officials started the year worried after two young men were stabbed to death in Washington Heights in January, bringing the murder rate to the same level it had reached in the entirety of 2010.
"We are very concerned that this rash of recent killings of young people will drive us back to the old days," said State Sen. Adriano Espaillat as he stood with Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and City Councilmen Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez on Jan. 24 to denounce the uptick in violence.
Luz Bermudez lives on Sherman Avenue in Inwood and is vice president of the 34th Precinct Community Council. She said that although crime has dropped significantly over the years, her neighborhood still struggles with random violence, drugs and robberies.
“People, especially women, feel insecure here,” she said. “I don’t carry my money, my credit cards. I only take the money I need for the day.”
Pamela Palenque-North, chair of Community Board 12, which represents Inwood and Washington Heights, said she wouldn’t celebrate the area’s ranking just yet.
“I don’t think there is a sense of glee over the numbers, but perhaps there is a sense of relief that we’re not as bad as we used to be,” she said, recalling a time when drugs and guns were regularly transported over the George Washington Bridge into the heart of the neighborhood.
A longtime Washington Heights resident, Palanque-North said she finds the low overall crime rate of 2010 puzzling when juxtaposed against the daily robberies, burglaries, muggings, car break ins and high-profile murders and sexual assaults that have gripped the area in recent months.
Palanque-North said recent questions about the police handling of crime statistics — including a woman who was sexually assaulted in Inwood Hill Park who said the NYPD was reluctant to classify her attack as a felony — might account for some of the disparity between the perception of the crime rate uptown and its reality.
She added that the 33rd and 34th precincts' insufficient staffing may also impact arrest numbers in the area.
“All of these things raise questions around the validity of the numbers,” she said. “Dig deeper. We know what the numbers are saying, but what are they not saying? It may be that the system really can’t handle the truth.”