Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day without violence leaves New Yorkers stunned

Twenty years ago, at the height of New York City's violent past, an average of six people were murdered every day, but ''Gotham'' has come a long way since then. On Monday, for the first time in living memory, New Yorkers passed an entire day without a single report of a person being shot, stabbed or subjected to a violent crime. The paucity of violence for 24 hours took the New York Police Department by surprise, with a spokesman admitting that officers could not remember the last time such a thing happened. It is further evidence of a downward trajectory in New York, a city famed for mobsters and violence, where violent crime has fallen significantly in the past two decades.

New York Police Department (NYPD) officers check cars
On the beat … the fall in murders has coincided with a drop in the number of police officers. Photo: Getty Images

In 1990, during the height of the city's problems with crime, officials recorded 2245 murders. So far this year there have been 366 murders, meaning the number is on track to fall below 400 for the first time in living memory. Gun crime has also decreased. At this time last year, 1674 people had been shot compared with 1514 - about five a day - this year. In 1994, the year the NYPD started its computer tracking of crime, 4967 people were shot, almost 14 a day. Put in a national context, New York, with a population of 8 million, is likely to record fewer murders than much smaller cities. Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people, has had particularly bad gun crime problems this year, with 462 murders to date. Philadelphia, with a population of 1.5 million, has recorded 301 murders in 2012.

Tom Reppetto, a NYPD historian, told the New York Daily News the city's crime landscape had changed dramatically since the 1990s. ''There were shootings galore,'' he said. ''We lived in a town where people were afraid to come out of their houses, where babies slept in bathtubs to avoid getting shot, where nursery schools ran drills - 'When you hear the shots, drop down'. [Now] they're going to come in with the fewest number of murders since about 1960. It's an almost impossible figure, but their programs have been fabulously successful in stopping crime.''

Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman, described the lack of shootings and stabbings on Monday as ''a nice start to the week''. But, rather than focus on that one day, he pointed towards the overall decline in murders and violent crime in the city. ''It is a remarkable decline over the years,'' he said. ''Some people thought it would never go below 600 and then it 2002 it did for the first time. Then it went below 500 and now we are on track to fall below 400. ''That would be a record for murders in New York City, certainly in modern times. You'd have to go back to the 1960s to see murders below 400 in New York City, but back then the records were not kept as reliably as they are now.''

Perhaps just as remarkable is that the falling murder rate has coincided with a decline in the number of police officers. In 2000 the NYPD had about 41,000 police officers. Now it has about 35,000. The force attributes the success to the use of ''hot-spot policing'' - putting officers in areas known for crime. While Monday's shooting and stabbing-free day was welcomed, the hiatus was brief. On Tuesday morning, a 27-year-old man was shot in Brooklyn.

Canberra Times 

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