New York City is on track to close the year with the fewest murders since Elvis Presley appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The New York Police Department has recorded 286 murders as of Wednesday, putting the city on pace to finish the year with fewer than 300 murders for the first time since the 1950s. Murders in 2017 are down from 329 at the same point last year and 2,262 in 1990—the highest recorded amount of murders by the NYPD.
Officials have credited the decline to the department’s data-driven approach of targeting the worst offenders in the city, centered on the crime-tracking system known as CompStat, as well as improved community relations and better utilization of technology. The NYPD also has the most officers of any department in the U.S., with 36,000 members.
“I’ve been going to CompStat since 1996 and to have a year like we had last year in 2016 was pretty amazing,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said at a crime-statistics briefing earlier this month. “What we’re doing this year—continuing that trend and making those decreases go even deeper—is really nothing short of amazing.”
Overall major crime, which includes murders, rape, robbery, felony assaults, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny of vehicles, so far this year is on pace to finish under 100,000—also the lowest since the 1950s, according to crime data updated on Sunday. Police have recorded 94,806 major felonies so far this year—a little more than half of the roughly 184,000 in 2000.
While rape is down 1% for the year, misdemeanor sex crimes are up by 9.3% to 3,585 compared with last year.
Last month, New York City had its worst terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001, when Sayfullo Saipov, who investigators say professed his loyalty to ISIS, drove a truck down a lower Manhattan bike path killing eight people.
The neighborhoods that tend to have higher crime continued to have higher murder rates. The two police precincts with the most murders this year—the 67th Precinct covering East Flatbush and the 75th Precinct covering East New York and Cypress Hills, all in Brooklyn—each were listed in the top five precincts with the most murders last year. East Flatbush increased to 17 murders this year from 12 murders in 2016.
“It’s dealing with not only what we think of as crime but also the quality of life conditions that make life both unpleasant and unstable,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, an organization focusing on criminal justice that has consulted with the NYPD. He said the city needs to ensure those neighborhoods have better housing, lighted streets and safe parks. “There’s a direct correlation between the government making neighborhoods feel stable and lower crime rates.”
Those neighborhoods would have been flooded with rookie police officers on foot patrol 10 years ago. An anticrime initiative, called Operation Impact, assigned officers fresh out of the academy to some of the city’s highest crime areas. Police officials say they have now changed their tactics to a “precision policing” method of targeting the worst criminals who are the source of crime patterns.
These patterns are analyzed at weekly CompStat meetings, where local commanders are questioned about how they are handling repeat offenders.
“We could arrest 150 people in one takedown. I’d rather arrest two people and it’s the people that are breaking into the buildings, the people robbing the banks, the people always pulling the gun out and pulling the trigger,” Chief Dermot Shea, the NYPD’s head of crime control strategies, said in an interview earlier this year.
The drop in crime coincides with dips in arrests and the number of people incarcerated in the city jails. The city on Wednesday announced that it is on track for a monthly jail population below 9,000 for the first time in three decades. There were 73,855 adult arrests in Manhattan in 2016, the fewest since 2007.
The NYPD also has expanded technology that helps officers respond quickly to shootings they otherwise might not know about. The city announced this summer that 60 square miles would be covered by ShotSpotter, which uses audio sensors deployed on rooftops and street poles to alert officers of shootings. The city has recorded 774 shootings so far this year compared with 979 at the same time last year. Shootings normally account for about half of the murders in the city, police officials said.
The NYPD has thousands of both city-owned and privately owned surveillance cameras at its disposal. The police also are using DNA testing to find gun suspects. The Office of the Medical Examiner tested more than 1,270 guns for DNA through November of 2017 and 1,682 in 2016, up from 981 in 2015, according to the office’s spokeswoman.
Mr. Aborn, who worked in the Manhattan district attorney’s office in the 1980s, said the crime decline has affected daily life in the city.
“People thought about where they would walk, where they would go at night, they planned their transit home,” Mr. Aborn said. “It was an unstable environment. And now the renaissance that’s taken place in this city has removed many of those fears from those people.”