What's Happening?




Perilous Times of Crime Rise

   “The LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.”

2 Samuel 3:39

          “Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers.” 

Job 8:20

 From The Sunday Times
April 18, 2010
New York trembles at rapid rise in violent crime

Tony Allen-Mills in New York

When a pack of marauding youths stormed through Times Square on Easter Sunday --- some brandishing guns, others assaulting passers-by --- New York city officials shuddered.

Suddenly it seemed the bad old days of the Rotten Apple might have returned to haunt a city proud of its safety record after more than a decade of falling crime rates.

A few days later, statistics from the New York Police Department (NYPD) for the first three months of this year confirmed a startling trend. The number of murders in the first quarter of the year had shot up by almost 22% compared with 2009, from 97 to 118. The rise in shootings was 14%.

Compared with the crack-fuelled mayhem that the Big Apple endured at its bloodspattered nadir in 1990 --- when there were nearly 200 murders a month --- the latest mini crimewave amounts to a blip.

Yet the return to New York of atrocity-filled front pages has helped to fuel speculation that a golden age of crime-fighting may be coming to an end as long-term unemployment and economic pressures turn more people to crime.

Police chiefs across the country have been warning for months that budget cutbacks forced by the recession are reducing the number of officers on the streets when crime may be increasing.

Rich Roberts of the International Union of Police Associations said last week that some US police departments were the victims of their own success. Because crime had fallen so much, politicians were concluding they could get away with smaller forces.

"The smaller the departments, the fewer officers available on the streets, the more encouraged the bad guys are going to be," said Roberts.

"There's no deterrent better than a uniform and a marked cruiser." In New York, where municipal budgets have taken a huge hit because of Wall Street's woes, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, has repeatedly pledged not to lay off police officers.

Yet the NYPD, which is by far America's largest force, is already down to 33,000 officers from a 2000 high of 40,000. At least 1,300 jobs that would usually fall vacant through natural attrition in the next fiscal year will not be filled.

Bloomberg has described the recent rise in violence as "worrisome", although Ray Kelly, the city's police commissioner, insisted last week that New York remained "much, much safer".

Other forces are less sanguine. Michael Kovalyk, the police chief of the small Ohio town of Bellaire, has seen a rash of gun violence since December and a doubling of assaults, drug possessions and general unrest from February to March.

Yet his police station has been closed down because the town of 4,800 residents cannot afford enough officers both to keep it open and to patrol the streets.

With only nine full-time officers (down from a high of 21), Kovalyk said there were times when he had "maybe one person covering our whole town".

In Flint, Michigan, the former home of a General Motors manufacturing plant, the police force was slashed by a third last month, from 150 officers to 104.

"I don't think there's any doubt that you're probably going to see more property crimes, break-ins and vandalism," said Ed Jacques of the Police Officers Association of Michigan. "Criminals know there's maybe one officer on duty on the midnight shift."

On the causes of rising crime, he said: "You can attribute it to a lack of police presence because of the layoffs, but when people are out of work, they turn to crime."

Other experts agree that the number of police has a measurable impact on criminal activity. Yet several criminologists noted last week that there were surprising exceptions to the trend and it might be too early to conclude that the recession is encouraging increased lawlessness.

"We're two-plus years into a major recession but we haven't seen across-the-board crime increases," said Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri.

Across the Hudson River from New York, the New Jersey city of Newark was formerly a gang-ravaged hellhole where at least one murder has been recorded for every month of the past 44 years.

Yet last month Newark recorded its first murder-free month since May 1966.

"There's a palpable sense on the streets of Newark that things are changing," said Garry McCarthy, the city's police chief and a former NYPD officer.

The disparities between big cities have made national conclusions difficult. New Yorkers had been proud of their reputation as crime-fighting pioneers; now they hope they are not leading the way into a new age of urban mayhem.