Think crime is bad today? It was a lot worse in the 1970s

The 50th Precinct reports a little more than 800 major crimes this year. It used to be in the thousands


We’ve all heard it one time or another.

“In my day, no one in the neighborhood locked their doors. Everybody knew everybody, and crime was just something no one had to worry about.”

That could have been the life in Sheriff Andy Taylor’s fictional town of Mayberry. But in reality, gramps might have better luck selling the grandkids his story of marching to school uphill in 10 feet of snow.

There is never a convenient time for crime, especially when it’s one of us or someone we know or love is the victim.

A perusal of 50th Precinct statistics reveal more than 800 crimes through the first 10 months of the year led by grand larceny, felony assault, and grand theft auto.

But was it really better back in the day? Were families going to bed throughout Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill without worrying if the front door was bolted shut?

In 1970, there weren’t 800 major crimes locally. There were 3,000.

And that was just in the first nine months of the year, not 10.

“At least a dozen major crimes a day are reported to the precinct,” according to a story printed on the front page of The Riverdale Press nearly 50 years ago. “From January to September 1970, the figures total 2,964 reported crimes.”

Just in case you’re about to say, “Well, people reported crimes back then — they don’t now,” let’s include the very next sentence of that news story from the NYPD: “This number would be much larger if all the victims of burglaries, muggings and hold-ups were willing to tell police about them.”

Comparing the crime then and now can be a bit of an eye-opening experience.

There were two murders in the 50th Precinct back in 1970 compared to one today. There were seven reported rapes then, with 10 today.

Robberies had climbed to 177 a half-century ago compared to just 70 today. But assaults were actually lower back then — 108 in 1970 and 136 today.

While those are certainly crimes many want to pay attention to, it’s not the one we see the most often. Especially anyone who frequents the neighborhood-specific social media groups, like those found on Facebook. There — almost like clockwork — victim after victim after victim displays the broken glass and empty glove compartments of their street-parked cars, while lamenting about days when no such crime existed.

In fact, grand larceny in the precinct topped 955 reports. That’s more than three such crimes reported every single day.

Sorry, wait a minute. That’s the 1970 figure. Today grand larceny is still a bit high, but just under 370 filings with the police. That means just about one vehicle theft is reported to authorities each day.

Having your whole car stolen is a little bit of a different story, however. Such crime is actually up in 2020 — at least compared to last year. Through the end of October, there were 129 car thefts in the precinct, compared to a little more than 70 in 2019.

As bad as that is, however, it’s nothing compared to 1970 when 870 vehicles disappeared from their parking spots. That’s more than three cars per day, compared to 2020’s statistic of one car stolen in the precinct every three days.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone in the Riverdale area that car thefts and car strippings lead in the statistical listings of major crimes here,” according to the 1970 news story. “Sometimes as many as 20 cars a night are broken into in Riverdale apartment garages, despite security measures.”

Of course, this is never to minimize anyone who has been a victim of a crime. It’s bad, no matter how many (or how few) other people also are victims. At the same time, it’s difficult to call the 50th Precinct a dangerous community when it’s not so bad — even 50 years ago when there was nearly four times the overall crime.

Even with 3,000 reported incidents, the 50th Precinct was a pretty safe place to live in the Bronx in 1970. Inside the Bronx, only the 45th and 52nd precincts had better crime rates at the time — almost the same as it is today.

Compared with the rest of the city, only seven other precincts could celebrate the kind of numbers Riverdale did.

Crime is up so far this year compared to 2019, of course. As far as major crimes, we’re talking a tick up of about 4 percent.

But we don’t have to look all the way back to 1970 to see worse days. Heck, 1990 was bad by itself with more than 5,000 reported crimes in the precinct.

So maybe we don’t have it so bad after all?