NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NYC's Plunging Murder Rates Are A Mystery

March 25, 2002

In most big U.S. cities, the crime rate is flat or rising slightly. But in New York City, the rates for all categories of crime -- except for rape -- are down dramatically over the past year. The homicide rate has fallen nearly 40 percent.

Authorities and criminologists there are joyful -- but perplexed. "Something terrific is going on," says Andrew Karmen of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "If only we knew what was causing it," he adds.

  • In NYC, homicides per 100,000 population dropped from a high of 30.7 in 1990 to 8 in 2001.
  • While the rates nationwide for big cities have declined from 35.5 in 1991 to 15.7 in 2001, NYC's achievement clearly outshines that of other urban areas.
  • At the present rate of decrease, NYC would have 386 murders by the end of this year -- the fewest since 1958.
  • The borough of Manhattan alone has achieved a 60 percent murder rate cut in the past year -- not including the nearly 3,000 killed in the World Trade Center attack, which the city considers an act of war.

Experts can think of many reasons why the murder rate should have increased rather than declined -- including the weak economy, fewer police patrols due to anti-terrorism assignments and warm weather.

One potential reason for the decline is the Twin Towers attack, which may have made people more inclined to cooperate with police and obey the law. Police credit smarter policing, ranging from campaigns against "quality of life" offenses like public drunkenness to a focus on the worst felons to computer tracking which allows rapid response to crime areas.

Source: Rick Hampson, "Dropping Murder Rate Surprises NYC," USA Today, March 25, 2002.

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