Did the NYPD Lie About the Spike in Crime After George Floyd? by James Taichi Collins

Illustration by iggdeh

Well, we did it, New York. We had seven major candidates for the Democratic mayoral primary, and we picked the absolute worst one. We are about to elect a right-wing, corporatist, gun-toting Democrat as the city’s next mayor. It’s going to be Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams: a landlord whose campaign was funded by Wall Street and some of the shadiest real estate developers in New York; a hypocrite who told new city residents to “Go back to Iowa. Go back to Ohio” as if he bore no responsibility for gentrification in Brooklyn; an austerity proponent that argued for teachers to be in 400-student Zoom classes all year round; a one-time registered Republican; an advocate for then-mayor Rudy Giuliani; and a staunch supporter of the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan in the 1990s. I never thought I would say this, but I think many of us will miss the lukewarm progressive administration of Bill de Blasio.

Eric Adams, however, didn’t win the NYC mayoral race with economic policies to lift people out of the pandemic. He ran a campaign of fear. Adams explicitly opposed the “Defund the Police” movement and ran on the premise that crime was on the rise in NYC. “We should have never removed Stop and Frisk,” he said on the campaign trail. And he maintained that only a former police captain, such as himself, could address the supposed terror NYC residents were facing.

With clock-like predictability, the right-wing has celebrated Adams’ victory, giddily asserting that his win is a clear repudiation of the demands of Black Lives Matter and allied calls for police reform. The New York Post published an article headlined: “Eric Adams’ win in high-crime areas proves liberals are out of touch.” Fox News’ leading White Nationalist commentator Tucker Carlson argued that Adams won because he acknowledged the supposed rise in violent crime in New York. Even Democratic strategists are already preparing to bring back the tough-on-crime approach of the 1990s as a viable electoral strategy nationwide.

But how true are the claims that there was a rise in crime in NYC? Does the premise that Eric Adams ran on – that the city is riddled with gun violence and homicides – reflect reality? According to an NYPD report, released in January of 2021, the year 2020 saw a 97% increase in shooting incidents and a 42% increase in burglaries despite the fact that overall crime in the city reached an all-time low during that same period. So, on the surface level, the alarming spikes in shootings and burglaries seem to give credence to Adams’ claim that crime is the No.1 issue in the city.

But let’s take a deeper look. Specifically, let’s look at the graph below and compare the statistics from two different periods (January to May 2020 and June to November 2020) using the murder of George Floyd on May 25 as a demarcation point. In April, according to the NYPD, overall crime went down 28.5%, with a 26% decrease in the number of robberies and a 9.7% decrease in the number of shooting incidents.  But suddenly, in the month after George Floyd’s death, the NYPD reported there was a 130% increase in the number of shooting incidents, and the number of burglaries increased 118%. 

When compared to their 2019 numbers, shooting incidents, in particular, seem to have skyrocketed: In 2019, there were 62 shootings in April, 61 in May, and 89 in June. The spike in June conforms to expectations, as studies show that seasonal rises in temperature often raise tensions and make people more prone to violence. If we look at 2020, we first find a drop from 2019 numbers with 56 shootings for April. In May 2020, however, the numbers suddenly jump. Coinciding with the rise in public outrage over the murder of George Floyd, there were a purported 100 shootings, which is almost double the numbers from the previous month. And then, in June, as the uprising was escalating, 205 shootings were reported, again doubling the numbers of the prior month.

What could explain the sudden rise in shootings during the summer of 2020? Was it simply a random outlier event? Or were there distinct and demonstrable causes? Perhaps it is too soon to answer with absolute certainty. But it is not too soon to ask, especially since the conspicuous burst in shooting incidents has become a pretext for “tough-on-crime” candidates and policy positions.

Because the turning point for the exponential increase in shooting incidents occurred with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that ensued, that event seems like a good place to start. Sparking national outrage and galvanizing demands for police reform, it was, indeed, a watershed moment for the country and must be taken into consideration.

First, we could examine the argument that the police might make: “Black Lives Matter got people riled up, and that’s why shootings spiked in May.” However, studies have shown what many participants in these protests already know: that the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful. In fact, there have not been any cases in which BLM protestors were somehow responsible for gun violence. The areas where shootings were reported did not happen in the locations when and where the protests were taking place. No one was carrying guns like the old Black Panthers in the George Floyd uprising. The argument that BLM was the cause of rises in gun violence has no grounding in reality and is merely a racist perspective.

Second, it seems highly unlikely that there would even be a surge in crime during the year of COVID. Stores are closed, the streets are open, and the subways are empty. One might speculate that because of economic despair from the pandemic, people became more desperate and started committing crimes to make ends meet. But that doesn’t explain why there would be a spike beginning in May. The pandemic began in March, and government checks went out in April. And most people who lost their jobs from the pandemic started receiving unemployment benefits. While many people applied for unemployment right after the pandemic started in March, many finally started to see their benefits arrive a month or two months later – around the time the NYPD claims that shootings went up.

However, we have some basis to question the data the NYPD released, as there are inconsistencies buried in these statistics. While the reports indicate that shootings went up, the murder rate remained consistent. There were 31 murders in April, a month before the spike in shootings. But the same source that documents the two consecutive months in which shooting incidents doubled also informs us that murder rates for the same period (May and June) stayed roughly the same, at 34 and 39, respectively. In other words, murders did not budge while shooting incidents doubled (twice). One might fairly ask, “Okay, but is there a consistent correlation between shootings and murder?” The answer, not surprisingly, seems to be “yes.”

So, if shooting rates doubled in May and June of 2020, we should also have seen a comparable rise in murder rates for the same period. Yet, we do not: the ratio of homicide per shootings was about 1:2 in 2019 (319 murders and 777 shootings). But in the month after George Floyd in 2020, it widened to about 1:5.

Shooting Incidents in 202056100205
Murder in 2020313439
Shooting per murder ratio in 202055%34%19%

What could explain this discrepancy? Did shooters become less accurate in the year of COVID? Did bullets become less lethal?

We could resort to Occam’s razor and make the fewest assumptions. Anyone who has been a BLM demonstrator and has encountered the police is well aware that cops are not always truthful. Setting aside the fact they are legally allowed to lie in certain circumstances, there is ample evidence to suggest that they take this liberty even when not permitted to do so. We already know there are at least 82 NYPD officers whose credibility has recently been challenged in court. There have been cases of body camera footage of police planting fake evidence, such as marijuana, in the car of a suspect. The New York Times’ Mara Gay reports that the actual number of people killed by NYPD officers was twice that of the number disclosed by the department itself. Cops elsewhere have even been caught operating illegal black sites to torture supposed criminals. The list could go on.

An example with an obvious connection to the abnormal spike in shootings in 2020 involves underreporting of its “Use of Force Incidents,” by the NYPD. These include cases when police use physical force, tasers, or firearms, etc. in the apprehension of a suspect. In 2018, the Department of Investigation found that the NYPD was drastically underreporting Use of Force incidents. If the NYPD can somehow fudge its stats in one critical area, it is not unreasonable to suspect them of having done it elsewhere – like a report on shooting statistics.

Incidentally, the Use of Force reports offer another example of an apparent inconsistency. According to NYC Open Data, there were 575 Use of Force incidents by the police in April 2020. But there were only 539 such incidents reported in June when violent crime was supposed to be skyrocketing. Common sense suggests that – like murder rates – Use of Force incidents would have also ticked up for that period. Yet, they did not.

If the police are undercounting Use of Force incidents or the number of people killed by the NYPD, what’s stopping them from making up statistics about shooting incidents in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent calls for police reform? (We can suppose that they did not try to doctor the figures for homicides as they would be harder to fabricate.) Frankly, there is a lot that arouses skepticism and doubt. For example, there is a lack of third-party reporting that might corroborate a police report of a shooting. A search among news archives for some of the alleged non-fatal shootings in June 2020 returns nothing. The data that’s open to the public do not include any names of the supposed victims of these shootings.

Given previous, credible accusations of the NYPD fabricating evidence or underreporting Use of Force and the numbers of people killed by the cops, should we really take the reports by the police of shooting spikes at face value? Who is policing the police on this issue? In short, among the possible explanations for the rise in shootings after the murder of George Floyd, a deliberate misrepresentation of the data by the NYPD cannot be ruled out. The likelihood increases when we stop to ask why they would want to do that. As an NBC/Marist poll found in July of 2020, Fifty-five percent of New Yorkers surveyed said they were in favor of “defunding the police in [their] community to spend more on other local services.” Defunding the Police means some cops will lose their jobs. It is not inconceivable for any worker in any profession to want to do as much as possible to prevent layoffs. So we have a motive for the NYPD to doctor the shooting statistics. They would want to give the impression that NYC residents need the police to protect them and shift the narrative of Black Lives Matter and police reform. If it is the case they were manipulating the numbers, it seems to have worked, as polls commissioned in 2021 now indicate that a plurality of New Yorkers oppose Defunding the Police.

There is not enough evidence to claim that the NYPD made up shooting statistics in the wake of George Floyd. But there are also enough questions and inconsistencies from the very reports that the NYPD has released to give room to doubt that these shootings were taking place. And if it turns out that the rise in violent crime in New York was merely a mirage created by inaccurate police reporting, the victory of a “tough-on-crime” candidate may owe a lot to voters believing in a false assumption.

If the rise in shooting incidents turns out to be a convenient myth, it wouldn’t be the first time that the NYPD perpetuated a false narrative of increasing crime in order to boost the chances of a pro-police mayoral candidate. In 1993, the city’s first black mayor David Dinkins narrowly lost his reelection to Rudy Giuliani. Despite studies showing a decline in crime under Dinkins, Giuliani won by using fear-mongering tactics similar to those of Eric Adams’ in 2020. In September of 1992, before the election, Giuliani went so far as to incite a riot at city hall, where 4000 plain-clothed police officers broke through barricades, stomped on cars, and knocked down bystanders while shouting “Dinkins Must Go.” In scenes that foreshadowed more recent events (at the U.S. Capitol), Giuliani supporters carried signs with racist slogans and symbols as they stormed City Hall. You can still watch the footage of the police riot today. One can only wonder to what degree Giuliani’s successful violent push may have inspired former President Trump on January 6th.

The ramifications of Adams’s mayoralty will be catastrophic for black and brown residents of NYC. During the Bloomberg years of Stop and Frisk, the number of times young black men between the ages of 14 to 24 who were subjected to this demeaning procedure exceeded the entire population of young black men in the city. Stop and Frisk terrorized a population of young people, leaving many with PTSD, anxiety, and trauma. Under Adams, who praises Stop and Frisk, wants more cops in the subways, and is even considering reinstating a plainclothes unit (like the one that killed Eric Garner); we can expect even more trauma and terror for young black and brown New Yorkers.

Eric Adams will be the biggest obstacle to the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City. He consistently uses the race card to discredit his opponents, saying that the Defund the Police movement is being led by white people. And with his win, carried by the outer boroughs where many black and brown New Yorkers live, Adams can claim to have a mandate to carry out tough-on-crime, broken windows policing measures in those same areas.

But if it turns out that it is a myth and that, in fact, that there was no real spike in shootings and violent crime in New York last summer, it would mean that Adams chiefly came by his “mandate” through good old-fashioned fear mongering and intimidation of those voters he claims to represent. Since Adams has already won the Democratic primary, it is too late to stop him from becoming mayor. But we can, at the very least, conduct an independent investigation to see if these claims of a crime spike have validity. We shouldn’t have to wait for another George Floyd, another Eric Garner, another Tamir Rice for the public to temporarily wake up to the fact that there might be deep-seated corruption in the police force. We must find the truth now.

James Taichi Collins is a “Zainichi” Korean-American, born and raised in Wakayama, Japan. He moved to the United States in 2012 to attend college at the University of Delaware, where he received his degree in Political Science and became a community organizer. He has since worked in various electoral races from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s 2018 primary, to Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign in Iowa. James identifies as a socialist and currently resides in Astoria, Queens.

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