In recent coverage about NYPD struggling to solve murders, the New York York Times ran an article with a clickbait headline distorting the number of murders happening in the city. “After Murders’ Doubled Overnight,’ the N.Y.P.D. Is Solving Fewer Cases” carelessly gives the impression that the number of murders in New York City has rapidly increased in a short period.
As several Twitter users pointed out, not only was the headline, misleading, the outlet’s reporting didn’t support it. While the headline has since been changed to a question about whether murders have been harder to solve during the pandemic, the Times’ initial carelessness speaks to a larger issue with crime reporting.
The original headline erroneously attributed a claim about caseloads doubling to the murder rate. Even with the headline correction, the article also generalizes NYPD clearance rates, claiming NYPD previously cleared 90 percent of murder cases in the city. But publicly available data does not show the NYPD was solving 90 percent of murders before the pandemic.
A quick review of NYPD clearance rates shows the citywide clearance has fluctuated since the fourth quarter of 2017. Available clearance rate data shows an average clearance rate of 74.2 percent for the fourth quarter of 2017 through 2019.
There were only three quarters during that period where the city had a clearance rate of over 80 percent. The city had low clearance rates in the second quarter of 2018 of 61.8 percent and 52.9 percent in the third quarter of 2019.
If the article meant the clearance rate of the Bronx, that would be more accurate, as the borough has an average clearance rate of 88.4 percent. And the pandemic may have impacted clearance rates, but not once does the article considers there could be more to the story than what the police have to say.
Regarded as the nation’s paper of record, the New York Times is considered a reputable source and standard for reporting across the industry. In October, former public defender Scott Hechinger took issue with the New York Times’ reporting of crime data released in the fall.
“Yet the notoriously volatile nature of short-term crime data renders such efforts futile,” Hechinger wrote. “Ascribing a short-term fluctuation to any particular cause—even a global pandemic—is impossible.”
The recent New York Times article reads like a case for additional surveillance in a city already covered in cameras. It also seems to take officers at their word that a state discovery law is partly to blame without talking to criminal justice reformers or legislators.
But hyping up crime narratives only serves law enforcement’s agenda. Distorting or misreporting facts doesn’t help families and communities awaiting justice for the loss of their loved ones.
As previously reported by NewsOne, some groups have taken issue with the trend in news outlets repeating police statements and claims without verification.
Just as advocates have called for reimagining public safety, including abolishing the current system, journalists have called for a new approach to crime beats. Free Press staffers Tauhid Chappel and Mike Rispoli called the crime beat “racist, classist, fear-based clickbait masking as journalism [that] creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve.”