Homicide: The New York World tour

The NYPD closed out 2012 with some very good news for New Yorkers: with just 419 killings across the boroughs, the city’s murder rate has dropped to 3.8 per 100,000 residents, lower than it has been in 50 years.

But residents of East Harlem might as well be living in Brazil. In both places, the homicide rate is more than five times as high as New York City’s average.

Click on image to explore interactive map

University Heights, the Bronx, has more in common with Russia than nearby Washington Heights: both had murders at a rate of more than 10 per 100,000 residents.

Meanwhile the 1st Precinct, covering Tribeca and Wall Street, had a rate of just 1.5 killings per 100,000 last year — a rate little different from that in Greece.

Each of the the 76 police precincts in New York city is a world in itself, and crime patterns in a given neighborhood will often have more in common with those elsewhere around the globe than with communities right next door.

The New York World wanted to present New Yorkers with a new perspective on murder in their city while revealing how different that perspective can be depending on what neighborhood you live in. The result is the New York World Homicide Map, which allows you to choose a New York City police precinct and see a country with a comparable rate of killings in a recent year.

To paint the global picture, we turned to a New York City–based institution, the United Nations. The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) maintains a database of homicide rates dating back to 1995, compiling data from two types of agencies: criminal justice and public health. The list of 14 organizations they aggregate information from include Interpol, the World Health Organization, and Eurostat.

The database provides an intriguing view into murder around the globe. But could we use it to match homicide rates from countries to New York City police precincts? First, we turned to COMPSTAT, the NYPD’s crime data trove, to find out how many murders had occurred within each precinct last year. We then calculated the rate per 100,000 people, using population numbers compiled from census data by John Keefe at WNYC. Once we had a rate, we then consulted the UNODC database to see which countries might be comparable to each neighborhood.

To our surprise, it was easy to find near-exact matches for most neighborhoods, though it was not a perfect science. While we made every effort to use the most recent year provided by the U.N. for a country’s homicide rate, in a handful of cases we had to reach back to 2008 or 2007 in order to find a rate that fit a particular precinct. In some instances we were unable to find an exact match, so we settled for the closest approximation.

We built the maps using Google’s Fusion Tables API.

By creating the New York World Homicide Map and putting New York City’s murder rates in a global context, we aimed to create surprising comparisons that manipulate New Yorkers’ ideas and assumptions about other places and people, and provoke us to think about our own home differently.

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