Pop quiz: Was New York’s murder rate up 3 percent last year, or 8 percent? In figuring out if violent crime is rising, that’s a big difference. But under the city’s archaic system of recording murders, you could use either figure, whichever suits your narrative.
Conventional wisdom holds that if you are interested in crime trends, you should focus on murder: It’s easy to massage other crime statistics by, say, downgrading robberies to larcenies, or ignoring low-level crimes, but it’s impossible to hide a body.
But that isn’t true. There are lots of ways to hide a body — or misplace it.
Last year, Gotham recorded 318 murders, up from 295 the previous year, for a nearly 8 percent spike, the biggest increase in a decade. It was also the first time in three years the murder level has gone above 300 — maybe not important statistically, but a psychological threshold.
But wait: That isn’t actually true. Of last year’s murders, 27 were “reclassified.” That is, the city recorded the deaths as murders in 2019, but they were the result of violent acts committed years before, in some cases as far back as the 1980s. The previous year, in 2018, the city reclassified only 13 deaths, a big difference.
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