Posted on November 4, 2005

These Stats Are a Crime

Paul Moses, Village Voice (New York City), Nov. 1

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been free to spend his fortune on campaign advertisements touting the continued drop in crimes police have reported. His campaign website declares that, under Bloomberg, “the neighborhoods of New York have become safer than ever.”

Tell that to the people in the emergency rooms.

The number of people who went to New York City hospitals because they were assaulted jumped sharply in four of the last five years for which figures are available — a direct contrast to the plunging number of assaults the NYPD reported.

These hospital visits are numbered in official statistics of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Injury Epidemiology — every bit as official as the heavily publicized police department data showing fewer and fewer serious assaults “known to the police” during the same years.

This continued drop in reported crimes is a cornerstone of Bloomberg’s re-election drive, ever present in the advertising he’s bought for what’s likely the most expensive municipal election campaign in U.S. history. He’s made it his own.

But the stark contrast between these two sets of official statistics demonstrates again the need for a thorough, independent probe of the police department’s crime reports. And it shows how wrong it was for the Bloomberg administration to have allowed the NYPD to thwart a probe earlier this year of the crime statistics.

According to health statistics on the city government’s website, more and more assault victims flocked to emergency rooms for four years in a row. In 2002, the last year for which data is available and Bloomberg’s first year in office, the number of assault victims either hospitalized or treated in emergency rooms shot up 6 percent from the year before.

Not to worry: The police department reported a 10 percent drop in aggravated assaults, according to FBI records.

No matter how much money is poured into touting these numbers, there is ample reason to question them.

That’s what the city’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, a panel of mayoral appointees, wanted to do. It was a reasonable move, given that the leaders of the police officers’ and sergeants’ unions had charged publicly that the books were cooked.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch had said that officers “are forced to falsify stats in order to maintain the appearance of a drastic reduction in crime,” the Daily News reported. And Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins said his sergeants had witnessed assaults being downgraded to harassment cases.

How could the commission have overlooked that and at the same time enforced high standards of ethics for rank-and-file cops?

But the police department refused to cooperate with the commission’s investigation.