This was first published in the NY Daily News.
In a naked political stunt, the House Judiciary Committee arrives here tomorrow for a field hearing on crime in New York. The notion is that the city exemplifies disorder in “blue” cities, but the real goal is to make Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg look bad. Both premises are inflammatory and misleading. Bragg’s policies have improved public safety in America’s largest city, which continues to be one of the safest big cities in the country.
Crime is a serious issue. As former prosecutors, we care deeply about protecting victims while producing safe and healthy communities. Violence and disorder must be addressed. But this hearing has little to do with public safety and everything to do with smearing the prosecutor who indicted former President Donald Trump.
What are the facts? Crime has risen in New York, as it has everywhere in the country since 2019. But even with these increases, this remains one of America’s safest big cities. Of the 50 largest municipalities, it has the sixth lowest murder rate.
Bragg took office in January 2022. Since then, shootings in Manhattan declined by double digits, and homicides fell 15% — a faster drop than in the city as a whole. CompStat data, too, shows that as of mid-April, five out of seven major crimes are lower in Manhattan now versus last year. Crime is too high, but it is headed in the right direction.
Camera-hungry politicians should check their own backyards instead. Columbus, Ohio — an hour’s drive from committee Chair Jim Jordan’s district — has a murder rate almost three times that of New York City. The biggest city in committee member Matt Gaetz’s district, Pensacola, has had a property crime rate more than twice as high as New York as recently as 2020. Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested Trump would receive more lenient treatment if he had “punch[ed] a cop,” but failed to note the murder rates in South Carolina, which in 2020 were nearly twice as high as in New York. Bakersfield, Calif., hometown of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, had a murder rate in 2020 roughly twice that of New York.
The bottom line: New York is safer than the hometowns of some of its most vocal critics.
Monday’s hearing will highlight emotionally wrenching stories of crime victims. Their experiences deserve attention and respect. Indeed, Bragg has expanded his office’s ability to protect crime victims. Within his first year, Bragg initiated 82 new hate crime cases and launched a new special victims division to better work with survivors and advocates. New York has its problems, and we are not blind to them. We know all too well that crime concentrates in disadvantaged neighborhoods, many of which have not seen crime fall as fast as the rest of the city. Don’t expect committee leadership to touch on this complex problem, or the investments that could help solve it.
We can expect, however, plenty of fulmination about “progressive prosecutors.” But there is simply no evidence that cities with reform-minded prosecutors saw crime rise faster than elsewhere. In fact, cutting unnecessary misdemeanor prosecutions can reduce crime over the long term. And excessive incarceration damages public safety rather than improving it. Bragg won office by arguing that “safety and fairness are inseparable”; he was right.
Republicans will likely ignore one real threat to public safety in New York: guns. Gotham has strong gun laws, but weapons flow in from out of state. A recent Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment only heightens the risk. City officials have focused on guns, and convictions in firearm possession tripled during Bragg’s first nine months in office compared to the same timeframe in 2019, pre-pandemic.
Bragg grew up in Harlem and speaks often of having a gun pulled on him six times — three by the police. His office launched a Gun Violence Prevention Community Initiative to help provide recreational activities for young people in the summer, when temperatures and tempers rise. If the Judiciary Committee really wants to help lower crime in and beyond New York, it would strengthen gun background checks and ban assault weapons.
When politicians cast New York as a crime-infested dystopia, ignore the hype and focus on the crass political motives. The committee members are not in New York to prevent crime. They are here to help someone charged with committing a crime — Donald Trump.
Building safe communities is hard work and must be done while improving the fairness, efficiency, and human dignity of our justice system. Let’s not let partisan politics get in the way.