In 2012, New York City had the lowest overall crime rate and the second lowest homicide rate of any major US city, and has become much safer since the crime spike of the 1980s.
By 2002, New York City had about the same crime rate as Provo, Utah, and was ranked 197th in crime out of 216 US cities with a population of over 100,000. New York’s violent crime rate fell by more than 75% from 1993 to 2005, and continued to decline during periods when the nation as a whole was rising.
In 2005 the homicide rate was at its lowest level since 1966, and in 2007 the city recorded fewer than 500 homicides, the first time since crime statistics were first published in 1963. 95.1% of all of homicide victims and 95.9% of all shooting victims in New York are black or Hispanic.
Sociologists and criminologists have not agreed on what explains the dramatic decline in the city’s crime rate. Some attribute the phenomenon to new tactics being used by the New York City Police Department, including the use of CompStat (COMPuter STATistics). Others cite the end of the crack epidemic and demographic changes.
Organized crime has long been associated with New York City, beginning with the Forty Thieves and Roach Guards gangs in the Five Points area in the 1820s. The 20th century saw a rise in the Mafia overseen by the Five Families who are still the biggest and most powerful criminal organization in the city. Gangs including the Black Spades also grew in the late 20th century. As early as 1850, New York had recorded more than 200 gang wars, mostly by youth gangs. The most important gangs in New York today are the Bloods, the Crips, the Latin Kings and MS-13.
In 1835, the New York Herald was founded by James Gordon Bennett, Sr., who helped revolutionize journalism by covering events for the masses, including crime reports. When Helen Jewett was murdered on April 10, 1836, Bennett pioneered crime scene investigation and reporting and helped bring the event to national attention. The murder of Mary Rogers in 1841 was also heavily covered by the press, and highlighted the incompetence and corruption of the city’s security and law enforcement. At the time, New York City’s population numbered 320,000 and was guarded by an antiquated force of one night patrol and 182 police officers.