Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, within six weeks of the year’s end, faced questions about the state of crime in New York City with what has become a familiar and welcome answer: Overall crime in the city is down again in 2010.
“Crime is down this year,” Mr. Kelly told reporters on Tuesday after a promotion ceremony in Lower Manhattan. “Down about a percent and a half, citywide, the index crimes.”
But the reason the Police Department can make that claim is not that murders are down. Or rapes. Or robberies. All of those crimes are up, as are shootings, driving an overall 3.5 percent increase in violent crime through mid-November, compared with last year.
Rather, because of the way major crimes are counted in New York — lumping violent crimes in with far larger numbers of property theft complaints, including the largest category, grand larceny — police officials could say that overall crime was down 1.3 percent. Without a substantial decrease in grand larcenies this year, however, the city would show an increase in overall crime.
When pressed, Mr. Kelly, to be fair, does not dodge the truth of the more disturbing numbers. “We have seen a spike in murders, rapes and robberies,” he acknowledged.
But he cautioned against compartmentalizing crimes or analyzing data from too short a period, seeking to put those spikes in historical context. Homicides are up, he said, but only over the record low last year, 471. They are still on track to be “probably the third-lowest year for murders that we’ve had since we started to record them accurately,” Mr. Kelly noted.
He added: “Every year of the Bloomberg administration, we’ve had murders below the 600 level. It never happened before. Prior to 2002, we’ve never had a year where we had less than 600 murders.”
But murder counts have not been the issue talked about the most in connection with New York crime statistics this year. Instead, much debate has centered on a fresh set of concerns over the integrity of the crime statistics and suspicions about whether crime complaints were being manipulated.
A first note sounded in February when, in an academic survey, retired police captains and higher-ranking officers said pressure to reduce crime had led some managers to alter crime data to show annual decreases in the index crimes measured in the department’s CompStat program.
Police officials disputed the methodology of the survey.
Later, a whistleblower officer made public his allegations that crime complaints in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn were manipulated. In October the department brought internal charges against the precinct’s former commander and four others, accusing them of failing to record a grand-larceny auto theft and a robbery complaint.
Notably, grand larceny is one crime category that draws scrutiny from those who suspect numbers-fudging. In their survey of retired captains and others, the two academic researchers said some respondents told them that commanders and supervisors had combed Web sites to find lower values for items stolen from victims, enabling them to downgrade reported grand larcenies to misdemeanors from felonies.
Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, which monitors crime and police policies, said it was “hard to know” if the crime numbers, particularly on grand larceny, were being manipulated. But he said, “There are certainly serious questions out there that need to be resolved about the police data.”
An analysis by The New York Times of crime tallies through Nov. 14, downloaded from the Web site of the Police Department, provided no clear confirmation or rebuttal of statistical manipulations.
Robbery is driving the citywide rise in violence. On a precinct level, the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn, was one of three in the city showing the highest increases in robberies. The others were the 103rd in Jamaica, Queens, and the 79th in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Citywide, robbery was up in four of the five boroughs, and in pockets of all of them.
The police say teenager-on-teenager robbery is up in many places. It is hitting hardest in the Bronx, where an increase of 383 robberies, compared with the same period in 2009, accounted for almost half the citywide jump.
Rapes were up 15 percent citywide and rose in every borough but Queens. Already, with 1,207 rapes on the books through mid-November, there have been more rapes recorded than in all of 2009. If the pace continues, the city will log more than 1,300 rapes this year, a higher number than for any year since 2006.
The highest rape rates — those double or more the citywide per capita rate — cut two distinct swaths through the city, one across Harlem and into the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, and the other running southeast in Brooklyn from Bedford-Stuyvesant into East New York.
Homicides hit 470 by Nov. 14, which was 67 more than in the same period last year. Their numbers increased the most in traditional danger zones, in the Bronx and northern Brooklyn, and new concentrations appeared in eastern Queens, where two precincts accounted for 20 percent of the city’s overall increase.
A look at homicides per precinct shows that the 75th led the way, with 29. Next door in Brooklyn, the 73rd Precinct was on pace to log the highest rate of homicides per capita, for the fourth year running, with 2.6 homicides per 10,000 residents. The 25th Precinct, in East Harlem, saw the biggest raw number increase, to 10 from 2 last year. By contrast, eight precincts made it through mid-November with no homicides.
Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, said each category had to be seen in context. Robberies were still 13 percent lower than two years ago. More than 90 percent of rapes this year involved acquaintances or relatives, which “would seem to indicate that the past reluctance of victims to report relatives or date rapes is giving way to willingness of victims to report,” he said.
Violent assault was fairly flat, because there were 111 fewer assaults on police officers, traffic agents and other peace officers than in 2009. With murders, Mr. Browne said, the police are simply “fighting our own success.”
On the flip side, major property crimes, and most notably grand larcenies, which are defined as felony thefts with losses valued at more than $1,000, declined by a combined 4 percent. Property crimes were down by 2,348, to 57,737 cases from 60,085 in the first 10 1/2 months of last year. Burglary dropped to 16,113 from 16,508, and auto thefts dropped to 9,096 from 9,276, the police statistics show. The drop in grand larcenies, to 32,528 from 34,301, represented 76 percent of the net decrease.
And the biggest drop in grand larcenies happened in the geographically confined area of Manhattan south of 59th Street, which logged 560 fewer larcenies through Nov. 14, representing nearly a third of the total citywide decrease in that category. Statistics from the two Midtown precincts were responsible for most of that decline, combining for 318 fewer larcenies.
Mr. Browne said southern Manhattan always dwarfs other areas of the city in generating complaints of grand larceny, “so it should not come as a surprise that a decrease there would have a major effect, as would an increase.” He said Deputy Chief Michael J. McEnroy led several initiatives this year to reduce grand larcenies and property crimes in southern Manhattan, including running burglary and larceny apprehension and surveillance teams.
In the end, Mr. Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission said, the story of crime this year is complicated. “New York remains an incredibly safe city,” said Mr. Aborn, who ran unsuccessfully last year for Manhattan district attorney. “The one thing cutting against that is this is the first year where we have seen a steady uptick in violent crime. And that is something that we really need to keep our eye on.”