December 31, 2013

Shining some light on NYPD's year-end reporting and the need for more transparency in reporting crimes

Photo credit: NYC.gov, top stories. Some of the cadets
from the last graduating class of 2013.
On Friday, December 27th, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly published a year end report on how successful the NYPD has been in reducing crime over the last 12 years, with a particular focus on the number of homicides. While the information that is published is good news for all New Yorkers, there is a lot to be desired with the little data we are able to obtain on a regular basis. How has anyone's particular precinct done in 2013? You can find out by looking at the official CompStats Page. But what about data on a neighborhood level? There is a somewhat feeble attempt to do that on the NYC Crime Map, but it doesn't give you the weekly statistics the same way that CompStats Report does, and it certainly doesn't give you the information by sector, or sub-sections of each precinct.

Too often, the NYPD has used a very broad brush to paint a rosy picture of what they believe the public should know, but that is dramatically different than the information that we should know. While the city has fared well according to the official report, how does the Bronx compare crime this year to 2012? What are the areas in the Bronx that need attention with the new administration taking office tomorrow? From the Bronx's official CompStat report (as of 12/22/13), we do see a significant drop in homicides (-26.8% vs 2012, -55.9% vs 2001) and likewise in crimes such as burglaries, rapes, and grand larceny autos over the same time period. However, the Bronx has gone in the opposite direction when it comes to felony assaults (+11.9% vs 2012, +1.9% vs 2001) and grand larcenies (+7.6% vs. 2012, +36.8% vs. 2001). Additionally, petite larcenies and misdemeanor assaults have also risen over the last two years by 10.4% and 5.9%, respectively.

While the above information does not have the same appeal as the official press release, it conveys much more information and includes the public in trying to play its role in addressing crime on a community level, which should be the intent of having crime data published in the first place. Even the above information is practically meaningless to the individual unless we are able to publish neighborhood level data by sector. We can only hope that the new Mayor and City Council will raise this as one of the first issues to address when they take office, especially given the somewhat spotty record of the NYPD when it comes to providing communities with information in the Bronx.

Additionally, here are two other suggestions for the new administration to improve reporting on crime statistics, starting in 2014. First, begin reporting each category in CompStats per capita (per 100,000 residents) as a way to compare precincts and boroughs equally. This can help highlight hotspots much more readily and rally communities to addressing public safety issues. Secondly, given the rapidly rising (yet still under-counted) population in the Bronx, it is time to create multiple borough commands to better serve the public, as is done in every other borough except Staten Island. Regarding this last point, when the Bronx is compared as a whole to half of another borough, it is no wonder that the Bronx continues to get a bad rap. However, if the Bronx was split, either North/South (46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.) or East/West (Odd number vs Even number pcts.), the reality of crime stats becomes radically different for the Bronx (see image below).
Information obtained from weekly CompStat reports for each Bronx precinct as of 12/15/13, Vol. 20/No. 50 and compiled by proposed commands. East/West represents Odd/Even number precincts, North/South represents 46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.

I understand how important it is for the Mayor and the Commissioner to demonstrate to residents that they have been able to get a handle on crime. It is equally important that residents are included in the public safety process with the most efficient and reliable data available instead of feeling that they are being fed a fluff piece that often leads to resentment and cynicism. It has been an uphill fight for many to get the NYPD to comply; hopefully in 2014 we reach the top of the hill and are able to get a clearer picture as to how truly safe are our neighborhoods.

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