Is the Bronx Safe? (in Case You're Planning to Live in or Tour This Awesome Borough)
The Bronx is one of the largest and most controversial boroughs (sections) of New York City. It is often cited as a living, breathing contradiction. While it contains some of the most vibrant and upwardly mobile communities in the country; it also contains one of the five poorest counties in the United States. While it is the third most densely populated county in the United States, about a quarter of the Bronx is made up of open space (many parks, rivers, gardens, etc). While the East Bronx is largely made up of flat land, the West Bronx is made up of far more hills and highlands.
And while the New York City is (right now) one of the safest big cities in the world, the Bronx tends to trail the rest of the city in crime statistics (just a little bit). For the rest of the hub, we will dive deep into the how, what, where and how much crime affects the average resident and/or tourist of Bronx county. Simultaneously, we will look at how the culture of the entire borough has changed over time; and what consequences this has for New York and the rest of the United States.
A Gritty History:
The Bronx has gone through a radical transformation in its turbulent socioeconomic history. Up until the 1930's the borough was a chiefly working class to middle class enclave of various European ethnic groups (Italian, Irish and German). In the 40's and 50's, immigrant groups from the Caribbean and the American South arrived in waves, making the borough a unique blend of Afro-Caribbean, Latino and Caucasian cultures.
During the 1960's, 70's and 80's, for various reasons, the Bronx began a steep decline in both quality of life and economic prospects. Many of the borough's middle class white residents fled the borough for better, safer suburbs; leaving poor blacks and hispanics in an increasingly desperate situation. During the 70's, a wave of arson (particularly in the South Bronx) came to symbolize everything wrong with the blighted region, with the New York Times featuring "The Bronx Is Burning" as one of its 1974 headlines. By 1980, the Bronx had reached an all time high in the city's homicide rate with around 2000 murders ocurring in that year.
By the early 90's the Bronx's urban blight had begun to subside. The burnt out high rises of the 70's and 80's were slowly replaced by brand new coops and multi-purpose commercial spaces. The murder (and general crime) rate declined in the Bronx (as well as the rest of New York). And today the Bronx is truly a vibrant hub of economic activity. Some would even say that it is "ripe" for a new wave of gentrification.
Is The Bronx Safe?
Most people don't know, but the NYPD (New York Police Department) is meticulous in publishing weekly crime statistics. The statistics are listed by Precinct and give a quantitative description on the number of Rapes, Murders, Larcenies, and Burglaries, etc that occur within that given time period (usually a week). And as a bonus, it compares this time period to a similar week in New York's past. Figure 1 gives you a good example of one of these reports.
Figure 1 depicts the crime statistics for the 46th precinct during the 12-11-2017 to 12-17-2017 time period. I chose the 46th precinct because it serves the central section of the West Bronx. And while the 1,726 criminal incidents that have occurred in that police district seem like a lot; it pales in comparison to the grand total of 8,710 criminal incidents that occurred in the precinct in 1990.
This reflects the overall trend of increasing safety and security on Bronx streets. As of 2017, the borough has reported record lows in each of the major felony categories -- including murder, manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand larceny and car thefts." [ref.1] In fact, ever since the NYPD started collating computerized crime statistics in the 80's, the Bronx has seen a 70.4 percent reduction in its crime rate and a 78.4 percent reduction in its murder rate.
The South Bronx & The 40th Precinct:
Of course, not everything is roses and sunshine. The 40th precinct of the South Bronx contains the 15th Congressional District, which for the past decade has held the dubious title of being the poorest voting block in the United States. The precinct itself provides security and community outreach for the Mott Haven neighborhood. A neighborhood with many stretches of low-income housing where mostly poor families and recent immigrants reside.
The 40th precinct and similar areas in the Bronx tend to skew crime statistics in the borough; making the Bronx appear to have a higher crime rate than the rest of NYC. However, make keep in mind that overall the crime rate is at historical lows. To illustrate this point further, I turn your attention to this press release by the Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz showing that in 2012 the Bronx had a slightly lower murder rate than the city of Boston. [ref.2]
Is The Bronx Safe For Tourists?
Though it is very hard to find specific data on crimes against tourists in Bronx county, the resources that do exist show that crimes against tourists are very low city-wide. One reason for this is that in the past 15 years, the city government has made serious efforts to beef up surveillance, response times and community outreach for the city's most troubled areas. On top of that, ever since 9/11 the New York City police department has become an elite crime-fighting force unlike anything on earth.
Furthermore, you could also say that the city government realizes the economic impact of tourism on the city's coffers. In 2016 alone, tourism brought in $4.6 billion dollars to the NYC economy, with the average international tourist spending at least $2,000.00 during their stay. [ref. 3].
What To Look Out For:
Like any big city, it is good to have a high degree of situational awareness when travelling in the Bronx. Yes, you may encounter the occasional gang member, fraudster, hustler or drug dealer; but as long as you keep your wits about you, you will be fine. Here are some helpful tips that you can follow:
- Do not leave your items, especially valuable items, unattended in public areas
- Do not flash large amount of cash in any public arena. Along the same line of though, be aware of individuals standing too close to you at an ATM.
- ***For Female Travellers***: Do not respond to catcalling or any type of verbal harassment. If you feel threatened, it is always safer to find a public safety official.
- ***For Avid Runners***: While the Bronx (and NYC as a whole) has an avid running/sports culture, it is always better to run in well-lit areas. Or if possible, run only during the daytime.
- Car theft is still a problem is certain areas of the Bronx. Do not leave valuables in your car that can be easily seen. Park in well lit areas and always lock your vehicle when it is unattended.
- If going out to enjoy the Bronx's vibrant nightlife / club scene, let someone know where you plan to go (your itinerary). Better to be safe than sorry.
- ***For Subway Riders***: Just like the rest of NYC, the Bronx has an extensive subway system. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable riding the subway, the best course of action is to remove yourself from the situation. You can either exit the subway station or change subway cars. Report any incidents to train conductors or public safety officials ASAP.
- And last but not least, there is safety in numbers. If you are going to any place you are unfamiliar with, go with well-known friends and acquaintances.
Gentrification & A New Landscape:
In 2018, the Bronx (particularly parts of the South Bronx) has become the latest target of developers and business interests who seek to cash-in on the boroughs safer streets and proximity to Manhattan. The waterfront areas of Mott Haven and Port Morris, two formerly blighted areas of the Bronx are now abuzz with the sound of construction work on new high rise apartment and commercial spaces. Developers and Urban Planners have colluded to re-brand certain areas of the South Bronx as "SoBro." For business interests, this re-branding is a way to attract wealthy New Yorkers and investors to the South Bronx...and of course make tons of money.
For local residents of the Bronx, all these massive changes signal the advent of gentrification. According to this NPR article, some residents of the Bronx's southern coastline are receiving daily calls concerning buyout offers and other incentives to move. Understandably, this frightens some residents of the Bronx who could "more easily" be priced out of the community by higher rents, higher rents, higher transportation costs, and regulations. What will the future hold and what will it mean for the question "Is the Bronx safe to travel", no one knows; but it is sure to be a wild ride.
1.) The "Bronx Is Safer" As Borough Crime Hits All Time Low. The Quadrangle: Student Newspaper of Manhattan College.
2.) Bronx Murder Rate Falls To Historic Low: Press Release, Ruben Diaz Jr. Bronx Borough President.
3.) NYC tourism to hit record numbers in 2017: Curbed New York