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Last Year the NYPD Solved 5 Percent Less Crime. Here’s Why

In the first quarter of 2020, the city’s police solved 31.7 percent of major crimes compared to 36.8 percent the year prior. The drop could be attributed to COVID-19 and social unrest caused by the killing of George Floyd.

(TNS) — Sue Doe was standing beside her children in the lobby of a Clifton apartment building on Nov. 16, 2020 when suddenly gunshots rang out and pierced through windows and walls of the building on Park Hill Avenue.

Doe, a hard-working mother of two, was struck in the head by a stray bullet after an unknown assailant fired multiple rounds out of a white SUV just before 7 p.m. that night. After a days-long fight, she was pronounced dead.

Police made impassioned pleas to the community for information in the shooting. "Your City. Your call," read an NYPD flyer posted near the scene after the homicide. "You don't have to give your name."

Her murder remains unsolved. It was not an anomaly in 2020.

The NYPD struggled to close out cases of major crimes citywide last year, department data shows. At the end of the final quarter of 2020 — the period Doe was killed — more than half of the city's murders remained open.

The NYPD's citywide "clearance rate," the term used to quantify the number of crimes solved, was considerably lower in all four quarters of 2020 compared to both 2019 and 2018 totals, data shows.

The first quarter of 2020 saw 31.7 percent of major crimes — which includes rape, robbery, felony assault, murder, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto — solved across the five boroughs, compared to 36.8 percent in 2019 and 36.6 percent in 2018.

On Staten Island — where there is fewer instances of crime compared to the other four boroughs — the department's clearance rate actually improved during the first quarter of 2020. In total, 46.2 percent of major crimes were solved on the Island, compared to 41.3 percent in 2019 and 40.5 percent in 2018.

Then, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused a state of emergency in New York City, the citywide rate worsened. The second quarter of 2020 saw 26.3 percent of index crimes solved in the five boroughs, against 35.8 percent in 2019 and 33.9 percent in 2018.

Staten Island's clearance rate also took a heavy hit during the second quarter of last year. Here, just 32.8 percent of major crimes were solved, which represented a stark decline from 2019′s total of 42.8 percent and 2018′s total of 39.1 percent.


The department had its ranks tattered as the virus spread through the five boroughs. In April, nearly one in five officers were sick, leaving its numbers diminished and its investigative force weakened.

Meanwhile, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests that spread to New York City, causing officers to be reassigned to demonstrations across the five boroughs — a move that experts said further hamstrung probes.

"I can only imagine how many cases the detectives were catching," said Michael Alcazar, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who retired from the NYPD after 30 years of service. "And then on top of that, they're getting assigned to uniform detail to basically to handle the protests."

The social unrest directed toward police departments also contributed to changes in how witnesses aid in investigations. "Nobody wants to snitch, nobody trusts the police," said Alcazar. "This is very difficult right now."

The NYPD did not respond for multiple requests to comment for this story.

The third quarter of 2020 showed a continuing trend as 21.1 percent of major crimes citywide were solved, NYPD data shows. That total was 33 percent during the same span in 2019 and 32.9 percent in 2018.

Staten Island's clearance rate dipped to its lowest point of the year during the third quarter of 2020, falling to 26.4 percent compared to 39.8 percent in 2019 and 39.6 percent in 2018.

In the final quarter of the year, just over a quarter of those crimes were closed across the city — falling from 32.4 percent in 2019 and 33.2 percent in 2018.

The borough's clearance rate rebounded strongly in the last quarter of 2020 — rising to 32.7 percent, NYPD data shows. Still, that level was less than 2019′s total of 39.2 percent and 36.5 percent in 2018.


Generally, the NYPD solves crimes roughly at the national average, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea previously said that he is more concerned about keeping the raw number of crimes low rather than focusing on the department's clearance rate, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Alcazar said a conflation of factors combined to cause the department's clearance rate to drop.

Gun violence surged throughout 2020 — a pattern that has worsened significantly in 2021 — and department officials have noted that many of those incidents, including Doe's homicide, were the byproduct of gang violence. Officials have noted those cases are harder to solve because victims are less likely to cooperate with police.

Additionally, a law passed in 2019 that requires prosecutors to hand over evidence to defense sooner in the process of a trial has made witnesses more hesitant to take part in investigations, Alcazar said.

Department retirements have also increased compared to previous years, said Alcazar, who noted, "We had a lot of senior investigators leave the department."


Overall, Staten Island routinely has a higher NYPD clearance rate compared to the rest of the city, and Alcazar said unique conditions on the borough could be contributing factors to those statistics.

" Staten Island has definitely less crime compared to Manhattan or Brooklyn," said Alcazar. Still, he said there are still pockets of the borough with high crime rates.

"I think what happens is, most of the perps, the criminals are local to Staten Island. Typically, like in Manhattan, all the perps that commit crimes are from everywhere, which makes it a harder investigation," said Alcazar. "But in Staten Island, nobody wants to pay the toll to commit a crime."

Additionally, the borough's lack of density compared to other sections of New York City remove some impediments to investigations, he said.

And while it can be difficult to prove, Alcazar suggested that the borough's residents also play a part in the Island crime solving rate.

"I think Staten Islanders are very brave. They just want to make sure that their property is protected, their family's protected," he said. "And if they see anything that's out of the ordinary, they don't hesitate to report it right away."

(c)2021 Staten Island Advance, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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