Last month New York City had a day where there were no murders or stabbings, and it was the first such occurrence in as long as local law enforcement can remember. To an outsider, or to someone who doesn’t understand statistics, such a milestone might make America’s largest city sound like a violent hellhole where murder is so rampant that it’s a rare day when one doesn’t occur. But such a notion obscures the fact that New York City actually has the lowest per capita murder rate of any city in the nation, and that murders in the city are at a fifty year low. So why is it that a murder happens in the Big Apple nearly every day?
It’s simply the law of large numbers. Take a small town with a population of ten thousand people that has one murder a year. Sounds pretty safe, right? But if you take that same murder rate and apply it to a city with ten million people, that’ll come out to a thousand murders a year, or about three per day on average. Your odds of getting murdered in either of the above hypothetical cities are exactly the same – but the small town sounds safer because only one person gets killed there a year, whereas three people get offed in the big city every day.
New York City is actually on a pace for about four hundred murders in 2012 according to CNN, which makes it far safer than either of the above examples. An average of just one murder per day in a city of eight million is actually quite a feat, statistically speaking. And it makes living in New York far safer than living in most small towns. But don’t try telling that to someone who doesn’t understand the way statistics work, or someone who’s had such a bleak picture of NYC painted for them by fictional crime shows on TV or sensationalistic news channels that they’re simply unable to see the city for what it really is: a remarkably safe place to live.