What the statistics show about police shootings and public safety
Whatever the verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd, that case — and the tragedy of another death, this time of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center, Minn. — should not be used to advance the narrative of systemic police racism and brutality nationwide. No one has done more to save and protect Black lives — indeed, all lives — than the men and women in police uniforms.
Among the victims in today’s social and racial upheaval are the overwhelming majority of innocent, hardworking people living in minority communities who are being victimized by nationwide spikes in violent crime. Their communities already are beset by a lack of job opportunities and quality education — neither of which is their fault, nor the fault of the police — yet now they are beset by increased crime as well. Police have become victims, too, as they are expected to do the impossible while being attacked from all sides and portrayed as excessively violent or trigger-happy.
Any discussion of policing and crime, including police interactions with minorities, is complicated and often turned into an emotional debate by an array of factors, including the sources and causes of crime itself.
But let’s consider some statistics on police actions.
In New York City in 2018, 36,000 NYPD officers answered more than 6.1 million calls. In all of those calls, a total of 35 police shooting incidents were reported — despite one common refrain that the city’s police are trigger-happy. Of those 35 incidents, six involved police suicides or attempted suicides and four involved animals. So we are talking about barely .01 percent of shooting incidents, or 99.9 percent of police calls in which no shots were fired by the police.
Not exactly a shooting gallery.
More important than cold numbers are the human elements. In the early 1990s, New York City averaged 2,000 murders a year, with approximately 75 percent of the murder victims being African Americans. During the 20 years of the Giuliani and Bloomberg mayoral administrations, and for some time afterward, Police Commissioners Bill Bratton, Ray Kelly and others implemented proactive procedures such as the “broken windows” policy. During those administrations, murders were reduced by more than 80 percent, which means that more than 10,000 African American lives potentially were spared.
Despite claims today that this aggressive policing constituted a reign of terror against African Americans and other minorities, Commissioner Kelly’s approval rating among African Americans was more than 2-to-1 (63 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable) and 4-to-1 among Hispanics (76 percent to 18 percent) as he left office in 2013.
Yet, following the George Floyd killing last May, violent demonstrations and riots — labeled “peaceful protests” by many in the media — broke out in New York and continued through the summer. Buildings and businesses were vandalized or destroyed, Macy’s flagship store was looted, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral was defaced. Molotov cocktails, bricks and rocks were thrown at the police who were trying to restore order; hundreds of cops were injured, many hospitalized. One senior NYPD officer described to me how, after he was hit in the face with a brick, a mob surrounded the ambulance and tried to prevent him being taken to the hospital.
In response to the violence in the streets and the social upheaval, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) criticized the NYPD and said he was proud to stand with the protesters; Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and the city council defunded the NYPD by $1 billion and passed legislation restricting reasonable police actions.
Unfortunately, the results are in: 2020 saw a 97 percent increase in shootings and a 44 percent increase in homicides, with the overwhelming number of victims being minorities. Subway crime is up and, not surprisingly, 87 percent of respondents in a recent Metropolitan Transit Authority survey said they are worried about increasing crime on the subways and are avoiding mass transit as a result. Police are retiring in record numbers. People once again are afraid to walk the streets in New York and in many other major cities — and, so far in 2021, shootings and murders in New York City are continuing to increase dramatically.
It is time for political, governmental, community and religious leaders to stand up against the invidious, reckless anti-police attacks and rhetoric which are undoing decades of progress against crime and are causing death and suffering to innocent people.
Peter King retired in January as the U.S. representative of New York’s 2nd Congressional District. He served 28 years in Congress, including as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
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