As long as we can keep breathing for the next 40 hours or so– oh, and dodge any breakaway scaffolding flying overhead, and reject your roommate’s baked goods that are really just botulism bombs anyway– we’re gonna make it outta 2016, otherwise known as the stinkiest steaming cesspool of a year on record.
Everything is horrible, yes, it’s true– but some rather uplifting news has emerged from the unlikeliest of places, crime stats!
According to the office of Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (the replacement for Ken Thompson, who died in October, just days after announcing he had cancer) the borough is closing in on the safest year ever. Yes, ever in the existence of crime tracking.
Yesterday, the D.A.’s office issued an announcement that, across the board, in Brooklyn crime fell to an all-time low in 2016. According to NYPD crime stats, the released said, “2016 will end as the safest year in Brooklyn’s history, with the fewest number of shootings and shooting victims and second-fewest number of homicides since record-keeping began.”
The D.A. attributed the reduction to their work with the NYPD: “including focus on specific individuals who drive crime, long-term gang investigations and targeting of firearm traffickers.”
The numbers go something like this:
- Burglaries were down 25 percent, robberies were down 14.4 percent compared to 2015.
- There were 127 murders in 2016, down from 15 murders (10.6 percent) in 2015. This represents the second fewest homicides ever recorded in a single year, following 2014, when 122 murders were committed.
- There were 61 fewer shooting incidents (a total of 407), compared to 2015– a 13 percent decline.
- In 2016, there were 75 fewer shooting victims (a total of 492, down 13.2 percent.
- Among seven major felony crimes, crime fell 9.5 percent overall.
It’s important to note that the NYPD only started keeping records via the controversial CompStat system in 1994, created by former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Since then, there has been a dramatic drop in crime– inarguably, New York City has become a much safer place since CompState was implemented. Of course, keep in mind that correlation doesn’t equal causation.
Also, crime stats are notoriously unreliable. The NYPD in particular has had some issues– the incentives are sort of screwy if you think about it: cops are responsible for reporting the numbers, but it’s in their best interest to report lower numbers, which indicates a drop in crime, and is evidence not only that they’re doing their jobs right but that certain police tactics are working.
And yet, there’s the widespread belief– something that the NYPD continues to deny– that the police department maintains a quota system. If it does exist (as many whistleblowing cops have claimed), quotas put pressure on cops to actually arrest and ticket perpetrators (as opposed to using their discretion and letting certain people off). In turn, this helps enforce the notorious “broken windows”-style policing, which results in greater consequences for the poor, the homeless, and people of color. It can also lead to criminalization of kids for, well, being kids. Critics say the result is overzealous policing and more instances of violence between the police and suspects.
There’s still a lot of debate going on about policing tactics, and the NYPD has made some moves toward diversifying the force and implementing things like neighborhood policing and getting to know the communities they serve a bit better. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these things will be effective or implemented on a large scale.
However, what is encouraging encouraging that the D.A.’s office– which made some progressive leaps in the right direction under the late Ken Thompson, who was hailed as a “visionary prosecutor”– is working in tandem with the NYPD in unprecedented ways. These include “bi-weekly teleconferences with NYPD officials” to discuss all firearm-related arrests “to ensure appropriate enhancements and aggressive prosecution” and setting up the Young Adult Court Bureau, which handles misdemeanor cases involving youth ages 16 to 24 and offers alternatives to the usual prison/probation route such as “need-risk assessment, counseling, vocational and educational programs with the aim of reducing recidivism and enhancing public safety.” Sounds pretty great, actually.
The initiatives are very much in line with the D.A.’s own policy platform, which was summed up in the announcement as a greater “focus on the drivers of crime – individuals responsible for most of the shootings and violence – while expanding alternatives to incarceration for youth charged with non-violent offenses.” Sounds great too, right? Well actually, it’s something of an awkward fit, since Broken Windows pushes tactics that are the exact opposite: focusing on enforcement against lower-level crime, such as graffiti and drinking in public (i.e. non-violent offenses), based on the belief that punishing even minor offense will act as a deterrent to would-be criminals committing serious crimes.
The D.A.’s office has maintained something of a honey-badger approach to Broken Windows– despite “months of resistance” from the NYPD, Thompson announced that his office would no longer prosecute cases involving possession of small amounts of marijuana. He even brought indictments against officers for police brutality– which is unfortunately pretty unusual. In March, New York spoke with James Cohen, professor of criminal law at Fordham University, who said of Thompson: “He’s really prepared to take on the police department, and that is not common among district attorneys in general and in particular in this city.”
There’s definite potential for better coordination and matchy-matchy policies between the D.A. and NYPD, since both have seen leadership change at the very tip top. Eric Gonzales serves as the Acting DA for now, but the office will soon be up for grabs. As for the NYPD, the new Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, who filled the position after Bratton retired, has proposed things like having body cameras on every cop within the next five years and neighborhood policing, and in general seems much more chill than his predecessor.
What’s clear, regardless of enforcement tactics, is that as long as the police have direct control over reporting, amassing, and releasing crime stats, there is a means for them to manipulate said crime stats– admittedly, that’s not necessarily nefarious or a malicious act, it’s simply the police acting in their best interest. The question is whether or not it serves the public interest.
This whole malleable truth thing has become sort of a pattern these days, as was made pretty clear when Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as the word of the year. With fake news on the rise, bogus academia trending too, and the President Elect/Overlord Imminent Donald Trump embracing questionable numbers and outright fake crime stats, it looks like post-truth is just getting started. Let’s crack some André for the moment and try not to think about it till January 1 strikes, when the fight against post-truth forces like Pepe and friends is going to be a fierce one. Now more than ever we need to think about conflicts of interest, ethical dilemmas, and who has control over “data” and facts. For now, clank your glasses to (possibly) very low crime.