NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton on Tuesday touted the continued reduction of crime in New York City and their reforms to its Police Department as the city braces for a grand jury's decision on whether to indict an officer in a chokehold death.
Overall crime has fallen 4.4 percent from this time a year ago, and homicides are down 6.8 percent from the end of November 2013, according to police statistics. And de Blasio said the city experienced its safest August-to-November period since 1993, when the Compstat system was introduced to track crimes.
"We always talk about bringing crime down and keep communities safer while at the same time bringing police and communities closer together," de Blasio said. "We are seeing that happen."
Drops in crime from a year ago were seen in nearly all major categories, including rape and robberies, though shootings were up slightly. A surge of police officers into public housing buildings after a spike in crime there earlier this year had largely worked, though a few developments remain prone to violence. And Bratton took pride in noting that the city's transit system, which serves between 5.5 and 6 million people daily, averages a mere five crimes a day.
The news conference announcing the public safety successes — held at a Brooklyn housing project where crime has fallen — resembled a victory lap for de Blasio, who took office in January amid charges from political rivals that crime would rise under the watch of the city's first Democratic mayor in a generation.
But it also gave the mayor a chance to remind New Yorkers of the changes he's implemented to the NYPD at a time when the relationship between police and communities of color has fallen under an intense spotlight nationwide in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner's chokehold death on Staten Island.
The NYPD's use of stop and frisk, the policy that allows police to stop anyone deemed suspicious but which a federal judge ruled discriminated against blacks and Latinos, has fallen 79 percent in the first three-quarters of 2014. The administration's new policy to stop making arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana has resulted in a 61.2 percent decrease in pot busts since it went into effect two weeks ago.
And later this week, the NYPD will debut a pilot program to equip some officers with body cameras, a reform championed by many who want to monitor police conduct.
Violence exploded in Ferguson last month after a grand jury declined to indict the white officer who shot the unarmed Brown, who is black. Garner also was unarmed when he was confronted by police for selling loose cigarettes on the street in July.
Garner, who is black, died in a prohibited chokehold performed by a white officer. The case was sent to a Staten Island grand jury, which Bratton said was expected to deliver its decision this week.
The police commissioner said the NYPD was prepared to accommodate demonstrators who may be upset with whatever the grand jury decides but vowed that there would not be violence akin to what occurred in Missouri.
"We have the ability to have a level of tolerance — breathing room, if you will," Bratton said. "People have a right to demonstrate, to protest. But if they engage in criminal activity like vandalism or actual crime, they'll get arrested, it's quite simple."
There were protests in New York after the Missouri grand jury decision, but they largely remained peaceful with only a smattering of arrests.