The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a “field hearing” in Manhattan on April 17 to draw attention to “how Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s pro-crime, anti-victim policies have led to an increase in violent crime and a dangerous community for New York City residents.”
Experts told us it was unlikely Bragg had or could have an impact on crime trends, and crime data for Manhattan don’t match the GOP narrative.
And it’s no secret why Republicans have chosen to come to Manhattan.
On April 4, Bragg unsealed an indictment against Donald Trump accusing the former president of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to three people alleging extramarital affairs by Trump, and making a case that the payments were made to illegally help Trump’s presidential campaign.
Numerous Republicans, and Trump himself, have attacked Bragg’s case against Trump as politically motivated. But more than that, they argue that while Bragg expends office resources to pursue Trump, his supposedly soft-on-crime policies have led to soaring crime in Manhattan.
On April 13, Republican Rep. Andy Biggs introduced legislation calling for defunding of the Manhattan DA’s office “for failing to address lawlessness and for utilizing federal resources in the political prosecution of President Trump.”
But while overall crime in Manhattan increased in Bragg’s first year as DA in 2022 — as it did in most cities around the country — murders declined. And in the first few months of 2023, murders, robberies, rape and shooting incidents are all down from the same period last year (though felony assaults are up).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan said on Fox News that in the committee’s “field hearing” in Manhattan he plans to bring crime victims to talk about “the unbelievable level of crime we have seen in these jurisdictions, these urban areas around the country, where you have some left-wing prosecutor who thinks it’s more important to focus on politics than it is to keep bad guys off the streets and behind bars.”
Through an office spokesperson, Bragg has labeled the hearing a “political stunt” and claimed that New York City is “the safest big city in America.”
We should caution that there are numerous ways to slice crime statistics, including comparing 2021 with 2022, or, as Bragg’s office has done, looking at year-to-date statistics — Jan. 1 to April 9 – compared with the same period last year. The trends are a bit of a mixed bag.
And, we note, New York City is made up of five counties. Manhattan is New York County, and since Bragg serves only as the DA of Manhattan, it makes more sense, when possible, to focus on statistics just for Manhattan, as opposed to all of New York City. It’s also important to look at national crime trends, to provide context.
Trump says that Bragg’s indictment, which he calls “Political Persecution,” comes at the expense of rising and rampant crime in Manhattan.
“Meanwhile, overall crime in New York was up 30% last year, much more than that the year before with felony assaults, robberies and burglaries all up by massive, massive numbers,” Trump said in a speech from Mar-a-Lago after his April 4 arraignment. “Not the same place that I know, not the same place that you know.”
Trump appears to have been citing citywide statistics for seven major felony offenses — murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny of a motor vehicle — which increased by about 23% from 2021 to 2022, according to New York City Police Department data. Notably, however, murder (which Trump did not mention) went down citywide in 2022 by 10%.
Murders in Manhattan, specifically, dropped 15% in 2022 to 78. For historical perspective, that’s the lowest number since 2019, and it is far lower than the number of murders in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For example, there were 503 murders in Manhattan in 1990 — more than six times as many as last year.
The crime increases in New York City in 2022 were roughly in line with national crime trends in big cities nationwide. According to a report from the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan criminal justice think tank, robberies, non-residential burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle theft all increased between 2021 and 2022 in cities that were part of its review (including New York). The report also found that homicides dipped in big cities in 2022, as they did in New York City.
Bragg also was making a claim about the entire city when he said that the Judiciary Committee would be visiting “the safest big city in America.”
In a Fox News interview, James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, mocked that claim, saying, “I don’t think many people are going to come to his defense and say New York City is the safest city in America right now.”
“NYC is among the safest big cities in the country,” Sharkey told us via email. “Among the 9 cities with 1 million+ for which I have data, only San Diego had a lower murder rate last year. Among the 29 cities with 500k+, only 4 cities had a lower murder rate (San Diego, Mesa, San Jose, Sacramento).”
Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School who is an expert in policing, told us something similar.
“For over 20 years, NYC has been safer than any other city of comparable size,” Fagan told us. “Violent crime spiked during the pandemic in NYC as elsewhere, and now it’s coming down.”
In his Fox News interview, Comer accused Bragg of being a “soft-on-crime prosecutor” and said that “we have district attorneys and prosecutors who are focusing on things to enhance their political career, as opposed to trying to put real criminals behind the bars for shoplifting, for murder, for rape, for carjacking.”
But we found no evidence that Bragg had backed off prosecuting serious offenses. Shortly after taking office on Jan. 1, 2022, Bragg issued a memo that instructed his office not to prosecute some offenses, such as marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution and resisting arrest, and only to seek jail time for major crimes such as homicide, violent felonies with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, sex offenses, public corruption and major economic crimes “unless required by law.” He further directed that his staff should “reduce pretrial incarceration” and “reserve pretrial detention for very serious cases.”
A month later, Bragg officially revised and clarified “several policies that had been fiercely criticized as too lenient,” the New York Times reported. For example, the Times noted, Bragg clarified that commercial robberies committed with a gun should be prosecuted as felonies, that “the default” in gun possession cases should be felony charges and that any violence against a police officer should be prosecuted.
Crime experts we spoke to said it is unlikely that Bragg’s policies have had any significant effect on crime trends in Manhattan – let alone the entire city.
Cities across the country saw increases in gun violence in 2020 that persisted into 2021, Sharkey said, including cities with both Democratic and Republican mayors, and cities with and without progressive prosecutors.
“There is no evidence that cities with more progressive prosecutors have had an impact on violence,” Sharkey said.
“I reject the entire premise of this current ‘debate:’ that the policies of one district attorney in Manhattan could demonstrably impact the crime rates of a number of different types of offenses throughout the city over the past year or two,” Andrew Karmen, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, told us via email.
“The district attorney of a borough can only work with the ‘solved’ cases that the police hand over to him,” Karmen said. “Most reported cases (such as motor vehicle thefts, robberies, burglaries, even rapes) go unsolved. Even the clearance rate for murders is low (somewhere between 50% and 70%, depending on how it is measured). So, the D.A. cannot really influence the larger criminal activity problem throughout the borough or the entire city in any substantial way, since most offenders are still on the loose – the police have not figured out who they are and how to catch them.”
The rise in crime in 2021 also tracked national trends, Karmen said.
“Urban crime problems across the nation worsened in May and June of 2020 after the lockdown was lifted and George Floyd was murdered,” Karmen said, so “all blame can’t be attributed to D.A. Bragg’s reformist approach since there is a nationwide uptick.” (Karmen was referring to protests and riots after Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.)
Congressional Republicans have made their case anecdotally, with some tweeting out news reports or videos showing instances of violent crime in Manhattan to bolster their argument that Bragg’s attention is wrongly focused on Trump as opposed to violent crime.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, tweeted a video of a man being shot in Manhattan and commented, “Yesterday, a man was shot in cold blood in DA Alvin Bragg’s NYC. People are murdered in Manhattan every day as a result of Bragg’s pro-crime policies. But what is Alvin focused on? The political persecution of President Trump, an innocent man who hasn’t committed a crime.”
Actually, there have been 20 people murdered in Manhattan so far this year. That comes to once every five days, on average, not every day. Citywide, the murder rate in New York in 2022 was 5.42 per 100,000 residents. For comparison, the rate in Atlanta, which abuts Greene’s legislative district, is 31.75. That means the murder rate in Atlanta was nearly six times higher than in New York City in 2022.
Some have pointed to rising crime overall in 2022 in Manhattan as evidence that Bragg’s policies are worsening crime there.
Looking at the seven major felonies tracked by the New York City Police Department, the number of crimes rose by nearly 26% in Manhattan compared with the year before. Nearly two-thirds of the increase was due to a 34% increase in grand larceny. But six out of seven of the major felony categories were up in 2022. The exception, as we said, was for murder, which saw a 15% drop, from 92 in 2021 to 78 in 2022.
The increases in 2022 in Manhattan — overall and for individual crime categories — were roughly in line with the other four boroughs of New York City, Fagan said. In other words, Manhattan was not an outlier that might suggest policy differences there. And, as we said, the statistics are in line with a national trend of increased crime in large cities around the country in 2022.
And, as Bragg’s office highlighted, crime in Manhattan generally declined in the first quarter of this year.
“Just-released NYPD data show shootings and homicides are down in New York City for the first quarter of this year, with progress in Manhattan helping to drive the overall citywide decrease,” according to a statement from a Bragg spokesperson. “Virtually every major crime category is lower in Manhattan now than it was last year (as of 4/2/23): murders are down 14%, shootings are down 17%, burglaries are down 21%, and robberies are down 8%.”
According to our analysis of the latest New York Police Department statistics, so far this year, murders (-9%), rapes (-29%), robberies (-10%), burglaries (-23%) and shooting incidents (-15%) are all trending down in Manhattan. (That’s comparing Jan. 1 to April 9 of this year with the same period last year.) However, felony assault (+6%) and grand larceny (+4%) are on the rise.
“Overall, this year (to date), Manhattan’s crime numbers look pretty good,” Christopher Herrmann, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told us via email. “Total crime is down a little bit right now for Manhattan….down 2%, driven by big decreases in burglary and robbery (these are two of the high volume/personal crimes that drives fear of crime up/down).”
Herrmann warned that while politicians critical of Bragg may highlight anecdotal instances from crime victims in Manhattan “there are so many other cities struggling with much higher violent crime rates.”
“It will be easy to cherry-pick some victims to come and share their stories,” Herrmann said. “Unfortunately, you can’t share the same stories for anyone who was NOT a victim of crime.”
“To me, the numbers speak for themselves….NYC (all 5 boros/counties) went through difficult times during the pandemic, like many other cities throughout the country,” Herrmann said. “Crime is not a red/blue issue, there are plenty of high crime cities that are red/blue and plenty of low crime cities that are red/blue. NYC is much safer, per capita, then some of the larger Ohio cities, so I don’t understand Jordan’s reasoning for selecting out Bragg. … He [Jordan] is certainly not focused on actual crime/crime numbers.”
Fagan also said that several cities in Ohio, where Jordan is from, have higher rates of violent crime than New York which is generally “middle of the pack” among large and medium size cities.
“New York is not a dangerous place,” Fagan said.
Sean Christensen contributed to this article.
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