Amid overall drop in crime, NYC murder rate creeps up

Sunday, December 21, 2003

NEW YORK -- When city officials brag about how crime has declined in America's largest city, the temper of one Brooklyn mother rises.

"I don't know where they're living," Diane Jordan says. "Not here."

Ten months ago, her 17-year-old daughter, Chantel Bailey, was shot twice in the chest as an innocent bystander to a meaningless dance-floor dispute. Three other teens and a bouncer were wounded. None knew their assailants.

The tragedy dramatizes a fact that has put some tarnish on the city's sterling crime-fighting reputation: Murders are on pace to creep up this year.

The increase, though slight, would be only the third in the last 12 years. A handful of neighborhoods have been especially hard hit, including one in Queens with an increase of more than 100 percent.

Police officials and experts -- who view homicide as the most reliable and telling of the major crime statistics -- insist there is no cause for alarm.

"Overall, everyone should breathe a sigh of relief," said Eli Silverman, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "If anything, the department is fighting its own success."

Even with a rise in murders, the rate should still end up below 600 for the second straight year -- a far cry from the record 2,245 homicides recorded in 1990. In 2002, the city had 584 homicides; there were 567 through Dec. 14 this year, the latest count available.

Overall serious crime -- including assaults, robberies and rape -- is down 6 percent this year. Sharp declines over the past decade have outpaced other urban areas, and made New York the safest it has been since the 1960s.

Touting the numbers has become a year-end ritual for City Hall and the police department.

At a recent news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the record on crime as "a major factor in why the Big Apple is coming back." The NYPD's Web site boasts the department is "the nation's leading crime fighter."

But critics contend crime-statistic politics glosses over the rise in violence in poor neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and elsewhere.

In a precinct that covers the Jamaica section of Queens, murders were up 133 percent through mid-December, from 12 to 28. Another precinct in Brooklyn saw a 24 percent rise, from 25 to 31, the most of any of the city's precincts.

People there "don't want to hear about how good the stats are," said Charles Barron, a Brooklyn city councilman. "They want to be safe."

Bailey became a 2003 homicide statistic while minding her own business.

On the night of her death, the young woman who loved to shop for clothes and dreamed of going to college in Georgia was given permission to stay out late at a Valentine's Day party.

"She should have been able to go there and come home safely," Jordan, 41, said while sitting in a cramped apartment decorated with a stuffed tiger on the television and a poster of Martin Luther King on the kitchen wall.

Instead, as Bailey was about to leave the party, the gunfire erupted. She fell as frantic guests fled, overturning chairs and tables along the way.

The shooter was a party-goer who was trying to shoot someone who had insulted him, authorities said. He and another man were arrested and charged with murder.

Now Jordan, a transit worker, fears for the safety of her teenage son. She has given him a cell phone so she can keep tabs on him. She also dreams of finding her family a new home.

"I really want to get out New York," she said.

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