Perception, Meet Reality

New York Police Officers secure the area near the scene of a shooting in a building on February 4, 2016 in the Bronx in New York City.

New York Police Officers secure the area near the scene of a shooting in a building on February 4, 2016 in the Bronx in New York City. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

This was not a good week for New York.

Two police officers were shot by a self-described Islamic sympathizer. Another cop was slashed in the face with a box cutter while breaking up a fight in Brooklyn. A 23-year-old man in a Bronx park was slashed by a mugger trying to steal a cellphone. A 33-year-old man was stabbed in broad daylight while strolling on the Upper West Side. A 21-year-old man was slashed in a Soho store apparently for cutting in line. A busboy in a Greenwich Village diner was slashed by a teenager who had just been soliciting money from customers—ostensibly for a basketball team. And a woman was almost thrown from a subway platform in front of an oncoming train.

These were apparently random acts of violence with little geographic locus. Momentarily, at least—and with the obvious exception of the poor woman on the Brooklyn Borough Hall subway platform who clung to a stanchion in order to save herself—our focus has shifted from the perception that attackers are preying principally on subway riders.

Unfortunately, our attention was drawn to the city’s schools as a locus of crime. Last Thursday, a nonprofit group called Families for Excellent Schools released a report that was as surprising as it was disturbing. Using state data that tracked crime in the city’s public schools, the group reported a shocking 23 percent increase in crime. There were 15,934 incidents of violent crime in city schools in 2014-15, up from 12,978 in 2013-14. This is in stark contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s rosy report in his recent State of the City address, where he claimed that crime in the schools had fallen 29 percent since 2010-2011.

Perhaps the most telling perceptual change was the reappearance of red berets and red jackets on the occasional subway car.

The discrepancy is the result of violent incidents reported to the state as opposed to the lower number reported to the NYPD. We believe the state numbers are the more accurate measure of incidents, and refer interested readers to the group’s report.

Perhaps the most telling perceptual change was the reappearance of red berets and red jackets on the occasional subway car: Curtis Sliwa’s Guardian Angels have returned.

For those too young or too new to New York, Mr. Sliwa was a night manager at a McDonald’s when, in 1977, he organized a group of friends to ride the subways—if not actually fighting crime, at least conveying a reassuring presence. Membership swelled and expanded to other cities and countries, and it is reputed that membership in the Guardian Angeles may have reached 5,000.

Mr. Sliwa is now 61 years old, and has been a radio and television host for many years. A colorful character, there was at least one serious attempt on his life. John Gotti, the late Mafia boss was tried for attempted murder. But three trials resulted in three hung juries, and the charges were eventually dropped.

As we heard from a knowledgeable friend, a six-decade resident of the city and the son of an NYPD sergeant, “Militias arise when there is a breakdown in civil order. No one who believes in the rule of law can view this favorably.”

To see the return of the Guardian Angels’ trademark red berets is disturbing on several levels. Sadly, it is a reflection of the perception that crime is on the upswing here in New York. The mayor cites statistics that purport to show that it is not. But perceptions count.

The second concern is that there is a growing perception that the mayor is either unwilling to confront reality or unwilling to do what’s necessary to fight crime. We have confidence in Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, but perceptions count.

Perception, Meet Reality