Of all the accomplishments of Mayor Bloomberg’s three terms in office, which this page will be examining over the next several weeks, along with his shortcomings, the most profound is the remarkable reduction in violent crime that he has achieved.
The cut in the murder rate over the last 20 or so years has been nothing short of a miracle. In 1990, homicides in the city peaked at 2,262. They began dropping the next year under Mayor David Dinkins, and continued falling under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But it was under the leadership of Mike Bloomberg that New York became, as he would be the first to point out, the safest big city in the United States, with murder rates far below comparable municipalities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
In 2001, the year before Bloomberg took office, there were 649 murders in the city, discounting of course the terror attacks of Sept. 11. Last year there were 417, a reduction of 36 percent, and a cut of 82 percent from the peak in 1990. Through Dec. 1 of this year, there have been only 307 murders, compared to 385 at the same point last year, a further reduction of 20 percent.
Of course Bloomberg does not get all the credit. First and foremost in that respect are the men and women of the Police Department, who have had to do more with less due to budget cuts brought on by the end of the ’90s economic boom and a great expansion of their responsibilities in combating terrorism brought on by Sept. 11. Giuliani and Dinkins also deserve credit, as does former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., whose leadership was key in expanding the NYPD in the Dinkins years.
And of course every police commissioner, starting with Kelly when he first served, under Dinkins, and including Bill Bratton, who introduced the CompStat crime-tracking system, and going back to Kelly today, has been crucial in keeping the momentum going. But they could not be effective without the right leadership in City Hall.
Bloomberg has provided that leadership in large part by giving Kelly leeway in how he runs the department, something the mayor has done, with varying degrees of success, in all city agencies. And he hasn’t fought with him or begrudged his popularity ratings, which are higher than the mayor’s. Giuliani actually fired Bratton over that.
The results of Bloomberg’s leadership are clear in any comparison of violent crime in the nation’s three biggest cities. Per capita, the murder rates in Chicago and Los Angeles are both about twice as high as New York’s.
Other violent crimes are down too, naturally. There were 1,445 rapes reported in New York in 2012, a cut of 25 percent since 2001. There were 20,144 robberies, a cut of 28 percent; and 19,465 felony assaults, a cut of 15.4 percent.
It’s true, as critics point out, that some police officers have discouraged citizens from filing crime reports in an apparent effort to make things look better than they are. But you can’t hide hundreds of homicides and rapes. This city is genuinely far safer than it’s been in two or three generations, maybe longer than that.
Meanwhile morale in the NYPD — though it can never be perfect — is also up under Bloomberg because of the support he gives the department, such as in the controversy over stop and frisk, where he’s gone to court to protect officers’ ability to confront people they deem suspicious.
There is no more important element to our quality of life than violent crime or the lack of it. Bloomberg’s gains in reducing it are his greatest achievement.