The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The overwrought, very political hand-wringing over crime in New York City

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A headline from last week's New York Post:

A 45 percent increase! That's certainly alarming. Then you read the second paragraph: "Sixteen people were killed around the borough between the first of the year and Sunday. Over the same period last year, the figure was 11." So: Five more murders.

The Daily News article, though, doesn't go nearly as far as the cover. "A dramatic drop in stop-and-frisk encounters has emboldened criminals and made cops more reluctant to take proactive police action, even as murders and shootings are on the rise in the city," it reads.

Which is true, as the two charts at left indicate. The chart at right, though, shows crime overall -- which is down, year-to-date. (Data is from the NYPD.)

Murders are up 16! Shooting incidents are up 28! Crime overall is down 2,542! Those are +15 percent (a bit less than +45!), +7.5 percent and -6.5 percent, respectively.

Why does the Daily News front page say "crime climbs," even though crime is falling? Because at the heart of the complaints are the paper's objections to de Blasio's policies -- particularly stop-and-frisk. The Daily News endorsed de Blasio in 2013, but said he was "playing with fire" in opposing stop-and-frisk. The Post endorsed de Blasio's opponent, in part over the same concerns.

The new Daily News story begins by pointing out the police officers' concerns about reducing stop-and-frisks, but it doesn't link that reduction to the change in the crime rate. The paper spoke with the head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association who, in the Daily News' words, said that "the city’s criminal element has been operating without fear while cops have been somewhat neutered in the last two years." De Blasio took office at the beginning of last year.

Using the most recent data available on stop-and-frisks, for the first quarter of 2015, we can see how use of the tactic dropped versus the first quarter of 2014. The darker the precinct, the bigger the drop.

Compare that to the number of murders. First, note that in nearly every precinct, the change in the number of murders was one or two up or down. All terrible; each a stain on the city. But notice, too, that several of the areas where stop-and-frisks dropped the least (like in southeast Brooklyn, at the lower right of the map), murders were still up.

In fact, there's no correlation between either the percentage or numeric change in stop-and-frisks and the change in crime in New York City precincts.

(There's also no correlation between stop-and-frisk decreases and shooting incidents, one of the main things the tool is meant to stop. If you're curious, the r-squared for number of incidents to number of stop-and-frisks was 0.00. For percentages of each, it was 0.08.)

In an accompanying editorial to Friday's article, the Daily News editorial board writes that "word is out on the street that cops are afraid to check virtually anyone for possession of a gun." Word travels slowly on the street; by the end of last year, stop-and-frisk was already down steeply -- as was crime.

The map that shows the big picture of crime in New York City is this one, showing the percentage change in the crime rate, year-to-date. Watch for Central Park, where there was a 64 percent spike in the crime rate, as the New York Post might say. (Year-to-date: 23 crimes.)

Otherwise, the city -- where I live and where I am writing this -- is doing okay.

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