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Dog Days Debate

Do recent headlines point to a high-crime summer?

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Shootings in the Rockaways, shootings in Harlem—it’s like the bad old days all over again. It’s happened just as the weather warms up and after headlines this year about a shrinking NYPD. (The murder rate is up 10.4 percent over last year, and the numbers of rapes and robberies are also slightly higher, but overall violent crime is slightly down so far.) Are we headed for a long summer?


THE COMBATANTS:
David Kennedy
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, director of Center for Crime Prevention and Control
Randolph McLaughlin
Pace University, professor of law and criminal-justice expert

Can you predict whether we’re in for a bad summer?
DK: No. “You can’t tell—nothing will tell you what is going to happen. I’d love to say this is connected to economy, or police strength, or demographics, but none of it is true. What drives this stuff is little street scripts; if you talk to guys, it will be about some very particular set of social relationships that went wrong.”
RM: Yes. “More people are being shot than previously. What happened this week in Harlem is a classic example of gun violence. Whether it’s a harbinger of gang violence or just some kids who got disrespected, the bottom line is they had access to weapons.”

Does the number of NYPD officers patrolling the streets play a role?
DK: No. “It’s not a matter of how many but what they’re doing. There isn’t any nice clean relationship between NYPD numbers and levels of violence.”
RM: Yes. “Because there are fewer police officers on the street, certainly the police are not targeting the guns as hard as they used to.”

Does warmer weather affect crime?
DK: No. “Public spaces are more crowded in summer, and with people bumping into each other more often, there is a general tendency to see small increases in violence. But it’s usually not dramatic. It isn’t true that an exceptionally hot summer will mean more homicide.”
RM: Yes. “Tempers get frayed when the weather is hotter. Also, people are out in the streets more, there’re more interactions and more opportunities for people to feel disrespected and frankly more targets on the street for criminals to prey on.”

Would an economic slump affect violence in the city?
DK: No. “Part of the reason is this really active street population—the high-rate offenders, your gang leaders and drug pushers—is not too tightly connected to the labor market.”
RM: Maybe. “These guys might resort to some measure to get economic recourse, but most of the crime is committed by kids or young men [not of age to enter the workforce].”

So what’s the determining factor?
DK: It’s almost random. “Twenty percent swings in violence from year to year are not unusual. This kind of violent crime is rooted in really small groups of exceptionally high-rate offenders—gangs, drug sellers—and both victims and offenders are drawn disproportionably from these street sets.”
RM: It’s all about the cops. “There is less attention by the NYPD paid to guns and gang-related violence, so we might see a slight surge.”

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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