New York Testing How Low Its Murder Rate Can Go


Murders in New York City have dropped to 566 so far this year from 2,245 in 1990. The New York Times say Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has begun to lower the public’s expectations, warning of a core number of homicides resistant to even New York’s large police force. Police are collecting more data on the remaining few hundred murders, tracking motives, locations, and even the national origin of victims and killers. Some things have not changed: disputes are the most common type of homicide, followed by drug-related slayings. While guns still top the list of murder weapons, there are proportionally fewer gun deaths and far fewer drug-related ones. Street murders are down.

The most stubborn types of homicide, like child abuse and intimate-partner killings, have increased as a percentage of the total. The challenge is that the fewer the deaths, the harder it is to reduce those that remain. New York’s homicide rate, 6.9 for every 100,000 people, is less than that of many smaller American cities. Some criminologists point to foreign cities like London, with a rate of 2.4, or Amsterdam, at 4.0, as evidence that sizable reductions are possible. “How low can it go?” said Kelly. “Who knows? Certainly it’s our goal, our public policy position, to do everything we can to continue to suppress it. And we’re getting more information agencywide that is going to help us do that.” Experts say saving lives depends on small-bore interventions and ever-greater attention to detail, whether that means handing out tougher sentences for gun possession, learning more about gangs who speak the Mexican language Mixtec, finding jobs for parolees, or giving domestic violence victims pendants that let them immediately summon the police. “It’s sort of saying, where are the gaps here?” said John Feinblatt, the city’s criminal justice coordinator. “Where are things falling through the cracks? Is there something where we’re not effectively pulling the thread through from arrest to sentencing? You have to come up with increasingly tailored solutions.”


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