Wednesday, October 1st, 2014
Mostly True
Bloomberg
"New York is the safest big city in the nation, and our crime reductions have been steeper than any other big city’s."

Michael Bloomberg on Sunday, August 18th, 2013 in an op-ed in the "Washington Post"

Michael Bloomberg says New York is safest big city in United States

A woman walks by a New York City police officer in Times Square, shortly after the city's "stop and frisk" policy in high crime neighborhoods was given a severe rebuke.

Following a federal court decision rebuking New York City’s "stop-and-frisk" policy as racially discriminatory, Mayor Michael Bloomberg penned a Washington Post op-ed titled, "‘Stop and frisk’ is not racial profiling."

He began the op-ed with a strong defense of the policy -- namely, that it works.

"New York is the safest big city in the nation, and our crime reductions have been steeper than any other big city’s," Bloomberg wrote. He said the improvements are due in large part to the policy, in which police officers stop and search people they suspect might be involved in criminal activity.

We won’t address the wisdom of the policy, which is the focus of intense debate. Instead, we’ll look at the question of whether "New York is the safest big city in the nation, and our crime reductions have been steeper than any other big city’s."

The numbers: Is New York the safest big city?

We turned to the most recent full-year data from the FBI, which used 2011 figures. Since a previous NYPD news release had compared New York City to both the 10 biggest cities and the 25 biggest cities, we will use those parameters here as well. In the charts below, violent crimes include murder and nonnegligent manslaughter; forcible rape; robbery; and aggravated assault. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

The following chart lists the 25 largest cities in America, in descending order by population. The last two columns show where the city ranks by crime rate, with 1 being the lowest crime rate.
 

City

Population, 2011

Violent crimes, 2011

Property crimes, 2011

Total crimes

Total crime rate per 100,000 pop.

Rank by lowest  crime rate among 10 biggest cities

Rank by lowest crime rate among 25 biggest cities

New York

8,244,910

51,209

140,457

191,666

2,324

1

1

Los Angeles

3,819,702

20,045

86,330

106,375

2,785

4

4

Chicago

2,707,120

NA

118,239

NA

NA

--

--

Houston

2,145,146

20,892

108,336

129,228

6,024

9

18

Philadelphia

1,536,471

18,268

59,617

77,885

5,069

7

12

Phoenix    

1,469,471

8,089

64,479

72,548

4,937

5

10

San Antonio

1,359,758

7,038

80,868

87,906

6,465

10

20

San Diego

1,326,179

5,104

29,709

34,813

2,625

3

3

Dallas

1,223,229

8,330

61,859

70,189

5,738

8

17

San Jose

967,487

3,206

21,972

25,178

2,602

2

2

Jacksonville

827,908

5,182

36,113

41,295

4,987

6

11

Indianapolis

827,609

9,170

46,967

56,137

6,783

--

21

Austin

820,611

3,471

42,250

45,721

5,572

--

14

San Fran.

812,826

5,374

32,886

38,260

4,707

--

8

Columbus

797,434

5,185

49,043

54,228

6,800

--

22

Fort Worth

758,738

4,569

35,117

39,686

5,231

--

13

Charlotte

751,087

4,787

32,008

36,795

4,899

--

9

Detroit    

706,585

15,245

43,818

59,063

8,359

--

24

El Paso

665,568

2,858

16,312

19,170

2,880

--

5

Memphis

652,050

10,336

42,355

52,691

8,081

--

23

Boston

625,087

5,252

19,445

24,697

3,951

--

6

Seattle

620,778

3,664

31,792

35,456

5,712

--

15

Denver

619,968

3,708

22,495

26,203

4,227

--

7

Baltimore

619,493

8,885

29,824

38,709

6,248

--

19

Washington

617,996

6,985

28,312

35,297

5,712

--

15

 

So by this measure -- violent crimes plus property crimes, adjusted for population -- New York City did record the lowest crime rate among the 10 biggest cities and also among the 25 biggest cities, making Bloomberg right.

The numbers: A steeper crime reduction than any other big city?

The FBI website has comparable crime data going back to 1995, so we looked at the change in each of these cities between 1995 and 2011.

Once again, we list the 25 largest cities in America, in descending order by population. The last two columns show where the city ranks by reduction in the total crime rate between 1995 and 2011, with 1 being the biggest reduction in the crime rate.

 

City

Total crime rate per 100,000 pop., 1995

Total crime rate per 100,000 pop., 2011

Percent increase or decrease, 1995-2011

Rank by biggest crime decrease among 10 biggest cities

Rank by biggest crime decrease among 25 biggest cities

New York

6,076

2,324

- 62 percent

2

2

Los Angeles

7,680

2,785

- 64 percent

1

1

Chicago

NA

NA

NA

--

--

Houston

7,588

6,024

- 21 percent

9

22

Philadelphia

7,078

5,069

- 28 percent

8

19

Phoenix    

10,880

4,937

- 55 percent

3

5

San Antonio

7,994

6,465

- 19 percent

10

23

San Diego

5,548

2,625

- 53 percent

4

8

Dallas

9,464

5,738

- 39 percent

7

14

San Jose

4,387

2,602

- 41 percent

6

13

Jacksonville

9,001

4,987

- 45 percent

5

11

Indianapolis

4,460

6,783

+ 52 percent

--

24

Austin

8,132

5,572

- 31 percent

--

17

San Fran.

8,190

4,707

- 43 percent

--

12

Columbus

9,192

6,800

- 26 percent

--

20

Fort Worth

8,617

5,231

- 39 percent

--

14

Charlotte

9,576

4,899

- 49 percent

--

9

Detroit    

1,1939

8,359

- 30 percent

--

18

El Paso

7,063

2,880

- 59 percent

--

3

Memphis

10,514

8,081

- 23 percent

--

21

Boston

9,493

3,951

- 58 percent

--

4

Seattle

10,482

5,712

- 46 percent

--

10

Denver

6,873

4,227

- 38 percent

--

15

Baltimore

13,323

6,248

- 53 percent

--

6

Washington

12,166

5,712

- 53 percent

--

6

 

By this measure, New York ranks second, by a narrow margin, to Los Angeles. Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said that New York does rank first if you go back to 1993, when the city introduced its data-based policing approach, and he cited a 2011 book by University of California-Berkeley law professor Franklin E. Zimring, The City that Became Safe: New York's Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control.

We checked with Zimring, who agreed that Bloomberg is on safe ground with his claim. Zimring said the steepest declines occurred in the early 1990s and would not have been captured entirely in our data. New York City’s drop "is the steepest ever for a major U.S. city with a credible statistics program," Zimring said.

Are such comparisons valid?

So, judging by the numbers, Bloomberg is on target. But is he justified in making a multi-city comparison, or is that just comparing apples to oranges? While everyone does it, experts say it can be a blunt measurement.

The FBI -- the source of the statistics Bloomberg used -- is one of the strongest voices warning that city-to-city comparisons are invalid. Here are a few of the factors that the FBI and other experts cite:

No two cities are alike. Bloomberg’s preferred ranking consists of cities (which would not include separately incorporated suburbs) rather than metropolitan areas (which would include suburbs). In addition, New York includes the primarily suburban borough of Staten Island.

Crime reporting rates can vary by city. Whether due to police habits or citizens' actions, different cities may not have the same level of diligence in reporting crimes, especially for the most numerous type of violent crime (aggravated assault) and the most numerous type of property crime (larceny-theft).

Using total crime as the measurement mixes both violent and property crime. The method Bloomberg used counts every violent crime and property crime equally, so every murder is statistically equivalent to every car theft. Changing the category being calculated can make a big difference. In 2011, New York City had a better overall crime rate than Los Angeles, but New York had a higher violent crime rate -- 621 violent crimes per 100,000 population, compared to 524 for Los Angeles.

Still, despite some concerns about Bloomberg’s use of the statistics in this way, the criminologists we checked with agreed that the mayor has something to crow about.

"One thing that is quite obvious is that almost every neighborhood in the five boroughs can be said to be on the way up, whereas cities like Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis have quite a few neighborhoods that can be termed dead or dying," said Eugene O’Donnell, criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, agreed. "New York has done a great job," he said. "But urban one-upmanship does no one any good. Whether they’re first, second or third in the nation is splitting hairs."

Our ruling

Bloomberg said, "New York is the safest big city in the nation, and our crime reductions have been steeper than any other big city’s." Both the FBI and criminologists express concern about making this type of multi-city comparison, and other measures, such as violent crime, don’t put New York at the No. 1 slot. Still, the numbers do broadly back up his claim. We rate the claim Mostly True.