New York City police officers shot fewer than two dozen people this year, a record low and the result of major shifts in policing practices that have led to drops in police shootings around the country.
By the end of November, New York City police officers had shot 18 people, half of them fatally, according to data obtained by VICE News. The New York Daily News reported updated numbers Thursday showing officers fired their guns in 23 incidents in 2017.
Shootings were down 44 percent from 2016, when New York police shot at 32 people. That’s less than one person for every 100,000 city residents.
With around 34,000 full-time sworn officers, the New York Police Department has almost three times as many officers as the next-largest local department in the country, but they shot about half as many people. Los Angeles Police Department officers shot at 42 people in 2016, and Chicago cops shot at 65 people last year.
“New York is the biggest city in the country. It is a leader from a policing standpoint,” said Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum. “I think holding officers to a higher standard, giving them the training and equipment, all of that has made a difference.”
The New York Police Department didn’t return a request for comment on the decline in shootings. A VICE News investigation of the country’s 50 largest local police departments published earlier this month found that both fatal and nonfatal police shootings are falling in the largest departments.
Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD officer, attributed the dramatic drop in New York primarily to the overall safety of the city. The crime rate in New York fell by about 5 percent this year from 2016, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after years of declines. O’Donnell added that the department also trains its officers to value “preservation of life.”
“The department has enshrined a reverence for human life that is not only in writing and during training but it is deeply ingrained in the lived culture,” he said. “Officers themselves, for the most part, embrace this restrictive ethos. Any firearms discharge is a momentous event that triggers robust scrutiny.”
In 2015, months after Eric Garner gasped “I can’t breathe” as an NYPD officer held him in a chokehold that killed him, the NYPD set up a special, centralized unit devoted to investigating the use of deadly force among officers across the city. Before that, each city borough had conducted its own investigation.
“Every patrol borough handled their investigations differently. The investigations were better in some, [not as good] in others,” Inspector Kevin Maloney told the New York Daily News. By using one investigative unit, “we can make correlations between shootings in Brooklyn North, Queens, the Bronx and try to identify tactics and training issues that can be brought out to cops with their boots on the ground.”
Wexler said that policy changes such as banning shooting at cars, along with more supervision, also helped New York police cut down on shootings. In 1972, New York officers were involved in almost 1,000 shooting incidents — including suicides and animal shootings, not just people — but by 2015, they were involved in just 67.
“Slowing things down, using time and distance and cover, means you can resolve a number of these situations so that everybody goes home safely,” Wexler said. “Not in all situations, but boy, for the New York City police department to cut it to 23 for the entire year — that is phenomenal.”