Despite the violent summer, crime numbers in the city remained well below the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when New York saw more than 2,000 murders a year. Homicides and shootings have plummeted in recent years, even in some of the city’s most notoriously dangerous corners. Had 2020 not been such an anomaly, officials have said, that trend might have continued.
This year, as crime increased, the police solved less of it. Police Department records, for example, showed that officers solved 26.3 percent of serious crimes in the second quarter of the year; department figures show that 35.8 percent of serious crimes were solved over the same period in 2019.
“I think Covid played a role earlier in the year, where we had a significant amount of people out,” Commissioner Shea said, noting that in the early days of the pandemic when many officers became sick, entire teams of detectives filled in for other squads, often in unfamiliar neighborhoods. The clearance rate improved from 26.3 percent later in the year, he said, but still fell well short of 2019’s level.
Critics of the police have questioned whether officers, chafed by the summer’s unrest and the national debate over law enforcement, began responding more slowly to calls. But some experts say much of the department’s low clearance rate is tied to difficulties caused by the pandemic — officers cannot interact as widely with the public, and most people, including criminals, are wearing masks.
“It’s convenient that everyone is wearing masks now,” said Christopher Herrmann, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “Obviously that adds to the anonymity aspect of being a criminal.” But, he added, the factors of the pandemic and the backlash against the department — budget cuts, shorter staffing and sick colleagues — had probably hurt officers’ morale.
“Cops are kind of tiptoeing around. They’re not as proactive, they’re not as aggressive,” Mr. Herrmann said. “They’re not doing their job as well as they normally do.”