In August 1952, The New York Times published the following dire statement in an editorial: The public now had evidence in statistics “solemnly guaranteed as accurate and complete by the Police Department, that there is definite reason for concern about the trend violence is taking in New York.”
Over the years, things got bloodier, more or less steadily, until 1990. The city had 2,245 murders that year, WROTE Jim Dwyer in The New York Times.
This week, the police department released statistics that showed murders have declined so much in New York City that killings are likely to be fewer than 300 for 2017. That is less than most years in the 1950s, when there were fewer people living in the city.
A mere number, the homicide statistic is of the utmost importance for what it counts, death by violence. But it is also a historic milestone for what it does not count: lives not lost. It marks a long change, one whose importance would be unmistakable for anyone familiar with the city.
Well, not everyone. You can, of course, always manage to find one New Yorker who sees things upside down. In this case, the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump managed that trick during a campaign debate last year.
“Murders are up, all right,” Mr. Trump said. “You check it.”
Wrong then, wrong now. That may not qualify as startling news, but it is welcome. As the city has grown, it has become safer and safer.
The cause of the (nonexistent) crime increase, Mr. Trump had said, was that “a judge, who was a very-against-police judge,” acting in concert with Mayor Bill de Blasio, had ended the use of stop-and-frisk.
Candidate Trump got the murder trend completely wrong, but sometimes people stumble on facts when rushing to get to a larger truth.
In this case, Mr. Trump was trying to get at an even bigger untruth.
More than 4 million innocent people were stopped and frisked between 2002 and 2012. Most were under the age of 25. The vast majority were black or Latino. Under pressure from a lawsuit, the practice was scaled back beginning in 2012 — not by the order of a judge, not by Mayor de Blasio, but by his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg.
Today, the police still stop and search people, but the number of such encounters has dropped by more than 98 percent since its peak in 2011 — down to 12,404 in 2016, and about the same pace this year. Six years ago, 685,724 were stopped and searched — 605,328 of whom had done nothing wrong, and many thousands who had done nothing worse than carry marijuana.
Along the way, a federal judge did say that the city’s wholesale stop-and-frisk practices violated the Constitution. But contrary to the cries of Mr. Bloomberg, the police commissioner and some editorial writers, further curtailing this approach did not make the city more dangerous. In fact, the opposite happened. That is unambiguously great news.
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