Let’s look at a few recent headlines published yesterday and today about crime in New York City. “New York City just recorded its fewest shootings ever,” reads a Fusion article from this morning, which aggregated the Huffington Post’s report, “New York City Murder Rate Drops To Historic Low.” Police magazine, however, took a different approach: “NYPD Union Chief Blames ‘Anti-Police Atmosphere’ for Rise in Shootings, Slashings.”
Which way is violent crime really going? It’s down, and decidedly so, according to the mayor, the police commissioner, and the NYPD’s official statistics. In the first quarter of 2016, New York experienced the lowest rate of shootings and of murder in its entire history, Mayor de Blasio announced yesterday.
So what is Patrick Lynch, the totally unhinged boss of the city’s police union, talking about? “We have shootings on the rise, and we have slashings on the rise, and it’s because the criminals on the street feel emboldened, empowered to go out and commit these acts,” Lynch said the day before the mayor’s announcement.
Much like his friends at the New York Post, Lynch appears to be looking at the data selectively, and in a way that totally distorts its meaning. If you consider only the shooting number from this past March, and compare it only to the shooting number from March 2015, you will see a slight increase. But if you zoom out and see the whole picture, you see that the city is actually safer.
The Post and Lynch’s method is like comparing Kobe Bryant’s stats from two games a year apart and using that comparison to draw sweeping conclusions about the way he plays the game. Why enforce such an arbitrary window when you can look at his whole career? Kobe might have been playing on a light injury in one of those games, or he might have been having the game of his life in the other. In the case of New York, this March was much, much warmer than the last one— a factor that is well known to increase the rate of violent crime.
Why would Patrick Lynch, a man who is charged with publicly representing thousands of sworn NYPD officers, twist the numbers to make it seem like those officers doing a worse job than they actually are? Lynch is a proponent of an old way of thinking about policing. There’s nothing wrong with stop-and-frisk, in Lynch’s view, which holds that lawbreakers of all stripes are callous evildoers who must be put behind bars at all costs. The NYPD under de Blasio and Commissioner Bill Bratton, for all its flaws, has done a lot to reverse this view. Stop-and-frisks are way down, the Muslim surveillance program is gone, and even the “quality-of-life” or “broken windows” policing that sees so many poor people jailed for the crime of being poor has taken a few tentative steps toward the door. This new way of thinking recognizes the difference between a serial killer and a turnstile jumper, and takes important mitigating factors like poverty into account.
But this reform talk is pretty threatening to Lynch and other old-school head-busters like him. As the law enforcement writer Radley Balko points out, it’s almost as if Lynch wishes the city really were the violent hellhole he regularly makes it out to be. Plenty of people would be put in grave danger, sure, but at least Patrick Lynch would be vindicated.