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Shootings Rise in New York, Coloring Perceptions of City’s Safety

This year’s first three months have also seen rises in crimes like burglaries, robberies and grand larcenies compared to the same periods in 2020 and 2021, though experts warn against short-term comparisons, particularly during the statistic-skewing pandemic.

New York isn’t the only city struggling to check crime amid the pandemic. In Houston, at least 473 homicides were recorded last year; New York saw only 15 more, with nearly four times the total population. And just 90 minutes south, Philadelphia saw 559 murders in 2021, in a city with just 1.5 million residents.

But fresh anxieties have driven warnings about a return to New York’s “bad old days,” when there were many years with more than 2,000 murders. To some, the resemblance between the periods lies not in the crime or the data, but in the coverage.

“It reminds me of the 1990s, in the sense that every incident of violence becomes a major news story,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Some of these things are just shocking. But it’s also important to remember that these things have always happened, and still been fairly infrequent incidents. But they stay with you for so long and stick in your memory.”

Some types of crime have risen significantly since the pandemic began.

Shootings are twice as high as in the years preceding the pandemic, and the burden falls primarily on Black and Latino neighborhoods. More than 1,800 shootings were reported annually in the past two years after dropping under 900 in 2018. Attacks against Asian New Yorkers have spiked, with over 130 hate-crime complaints filed to the police last year, after just one reported in 2019.

The subway system has also grown more hazardous, with assaults and other major felonies significantly up through the pandemic, when adjusted for a weekday ridership below 60 percent of former levels. And not all types of frightening events like aggressive encounters on the street or harassment on a train are simple to track.

Still, Mr. Adams and Commissioner Sewell have effected a host of changes at the Police Department, including the reincarnation of plainclothes anti-crime units disbanded in 2020 over allegations of brutality and excessive force. The new units have been reimagined to include training on constitutional rights and de-escalation, and officers now wear a modified uniform instead of street clothes, the Police Department said.

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