Felony Crime Is Down, Low Level Crime Is Up In New York

October 29, 2014 | Prachi Gupta

Crime in New York has gone down, but misdemeanor arrests are on the rise, concludes a comprehensive report [PDF] that culls through New York state and city arrest data from the past three decades. The New York Times reported on the 114-page study, put out by John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday, describing it as “the clearest picture to date of a three-decade long shift in crime policy in New York City, beginning when crime was on the rise and ending last year when it reached historically low levels.”

The report doesn’t explain why the arrest rate for felony arrests — which hit 149,204 arrests in 1989 — and low level crimes have flipped, but the president of John Jay College, Jeremy Travis, suggests the reversal is linked to the strategies employed by Police Commissioner William J. Bratton and the encouragement of police discretion in cases of minor offenses. The report reflects what that “discretion” may have translated to:

A pair of charts tracking the most common misdemeanor charges suggest how officers are using that discretion. Arrests for more serious offenses, like assault, gradually rose, and those for crimes like theft declined first before slowly increasing, the report found. But arrests spiked and dipped over the past 30 years for lesser offenses like drug possession and turnstile jumping, a hallmark of Mr. Bratton’s crime-fighting approach in the early 1990s.

Arrests for prostitution, a quintessential sign of disorder in the “broken windows” model, declined over the last two decades, the report found. But marijuana arrests soared beginning in the early 1990s, peaking at nearly 28 percent of all misdemeanor arrests in 2000 before tapering to 15 percent of arrests last year. By comparison, the report found, marijuana arrests in five other cities in New York State never reached that proportion of misdemeanor offenses.

About half the arrests are in response to “serious offenses,” like assault or drunk driving, and the are in relation to lower-level offenses, like “marijuana possession or trespassing,” according to the Times. And, while they’ve increased across all ethnicities, the report notes that young black and Hispanic men make up a high percentage of arrests; the arrest rate for black men “nearly doubled from 1990 to 2013.” Seeing as how half of these misdemeanor cases were eventually dismissed, or ended because prosecutors declined to take them on, it’s evident that the NYPD still has a lot of work do to in how it applies “discretion.” (Photo: baltimoredave)