House Republicans are descending on New York on Monday for a hearing that will use the issue of crime as a political cudgel against Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who charged former President Donald J. Trump with falsifying business records.
During the hearing, “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan,” Republicans on the Judiciary Committee plan to accuse Mr. Bragg of embracing “pro-crime, anti-victim policies” that they say have caused “an increase in violent crime and a dangerous community for New York City residents,” according to a release from the committee.
Democrats have dismissed the session as a stunt meant to mislead the public into believing that crime has reached crisis levels because of lax enforcement by liberal officials.
“The pro-crime Republican Party’s latest political stunt is to come to New York City and interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation,” Representatives Dan Goldman and Adriano Espaillat, both Democrats of New York, said a statement “At the explicit direction of Donald Trump, they are coming to the safest big city in America with the sole aim of abusing their power to serve as a taxpayer-funded arm of Donald Trump’s legal defense team.”
There is little doubt that the hearing’s subtext is political; it is the latest instance of Republicans trying to amplify voters’ concerns about violent crime and blame Democrats for it. Here is what the data actually says about crime in New York — and what Monday’s session is really about.
Republicans are looking for ways to damage Mr. Bragg.
House Republicans, led by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Judiciary Committee chairman, have been attempting to interfere with Mr. Bragg’s prosecution of Mr. Trump on charges of falsifying business records in connection with his hush money payments to a porn star. They have put public pressure on Mr. Bragg to produce documents and testimony about his ongoing criminal case and bogged down his office with demands.
So even though the hearing is ostensibly about crime, it is really about tarnishing Mr. Bragg and making it seem as if he is pursuing a political vendetta against Mr. Trump at the expense of his duty to prosecute violent crime.
Mr. Jordan has issued a subpoena to one of Mr. Bragg’s former top prosecutors, Mark F. Pomerantz, and demanded access to Mr. Bragg’s communications and other materials. Republicans have justified the requests by saying that Mr. Bragg has used some federal funds in the case, and therefore Congress has oversight over it.
Crime has risen in New York since the pandemic, but it is down this year.
Major crime is down slightly in New York this year compared with the same period last year, according to the latest statistics. But the city has seen crime increase since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted daily life, as have many American cities and towns. There was an increase in major crimes last year in New York and shootings, in particular, surged during the pandemic.
Major felony offenses are about 45 percent higher today than the same period two years ago. At the same time, major felony arrests are also at a 24-year high, Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner, said at a news conference this month.
Mr. Bragg is the top prosecutor for Manhattan, not the whole city of New York, and crime in Manhattan is down from last year by about 2.4 percent, though it, too, remains up significantly from two years ago.
New York is considered a crime-reduction success story.
New York was once the murder capital of the country, with a shocking 2,245 homicides in 1990. The city’s turnaround has been studied by criminologists across the country for decades as a success story.
The number of murders fell to fewer than 300 in 2017 and 2018, before the spike in violence during the pandemic. Last year, the city experienced 438 homicides.
There are competing theories for the historic decline in New York crime, including a crackdown on minor offenses, statistics-driven policing, the hiring of more officers, gentrification and a national economic boom.
New York is safer than areas in many Republican states.
Since the announcement of the Republican-led hearing, Mr. Bragg has referred to New York as the “safest big city in America” and emphasized that its crime rate is lower than cities in the states of his Republican critics. For instance, Mr. Bragg said, New York’s crime rate is about one-third that of Columbus, Ohio, just south of Mr. Jordan’s district.
New York is also statistically safer relative to its population than other places in Republican and swing states, such as Jefferson County, Ark.; Robeson County, N.C.; Montgomery County, Ala.; and Bibb County, Georgia, according to Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“When you look at the per capita numbers, suddenly the Bronx and Queens don’t look all that scary,” Mr. Butts said.
It’s unclear how Mr. Bragg’s policies have affected crime in New York.
Politicians typically like to take credit when crime goes down in their jurisdictions, but blame others when it goes up.
Upon taking office last year, Mr. Bragg announced he would not be prosecuting certain misdemeanor crimes, but he later revised those policies amid a backlash. Still, his proposals angered rank-and-file police officers, and Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay, said they could lead to morale issues on the force.
Still, Mr. Moskos said he believes changes to state law — such as decriminalizing needle use in New York — likely have affected crime more than any policy Mr. Bragg has proposed.
“Bragg is a pretty minor part of it,” Mr. Moskos said.
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