We are constantly amazed at how many people perceive New York City as dangerous and riddled with crime. A lot of this has to do with the depiction of 1970s New York City in movies like Taxi Driver and on TV shows like NYPD Blue and Law & Order .
Despite having a population of more than 8 million people, New York City consistently ranks in the top ten safest large cities (cities with more than 500,000 people) in the United States. Violent crime in New York City has decreased by more than 50% in the last decade and the FBI reports that homicide rates in 2009 were the lowest since 1963, when records were kept, and have continued to decline since then. . However, visitors should be aware that many scammers and thieves are adept at identifying “strangers” and people who may appear disoriented or confused to take advantage.
While this shouldn’t take you away from New York City, using common sense should keep you pretty safe.
Beggars are best ignored, and the easiest way to deflect beggars is to avoid eye contact. In general, even the most persistent request can be deterred with a firm “No”. A common scam is strangers who approach you with a sad story about living out of town and having a hard time getting home because they left their wallet locked in their office or claim to have been attacked and need money to pay for the train or the bus . If these people had a legitimate problem, the police could help them, so don’t fall for their tactics.
Pickpockets and scammers often work in teams, where one person will cause a shock, either by falling or dropping something, while the other person picked up unsuspecting people trying to help or stop to watch. Crowded street performances can provide pickpockets with a similar opportunity, so while it’s okay to see the musicians or performers, keep an eye out for your surroundings and where your wallet and valuables are. Sidewalk card and shell games are also more frequently scams – participation almost guarantees you’ll be giving away your money.
Most of the popular tourist destinations are well populated and safe. During the day, almost all areas of Manhattan are safe to walk, including Harlem and Alphabet City, although the uninitiated may prefer to avoid these neighborhoods after dark. Times Square is a great place to visit at night and remains populated until after midnight when theater goers return home.
Safety tips for travelers
- Avoid attracting attention as a tourist – don’t stand on street corners looking at maps and do your best to walk confidently as this will deter many criminals.
- Be careful of your surroundings.
- In crowded subways, keep your wallet in your front pocket, rather than the back, and keep your bag closed and held in front of you or to the side.
- Don’t flaunt jewelry, cameras, your smartphone, or cash in public. If you need to organize your wallet, head to a store.
- Be careful when using ATMs and don’t carry too much cash with you – most places accept credit cards and there are ATMs everywhere.
- After dark, stay on the main streets if you don’t know where you are going.
- If you feel uncomfortable or lost, see a police officer or a friendly store owner for guidance or instructions.
- When in doubt about your destination or the safety of a neighborhood, take a taxi, especially late at night.
- Many business districts are desolate at night; keep this in mind when deciding whether to walk or take a taxi.
- If you take the metro late at night, stop near the sign “After hours, trains stop here” or in view of the Metro-Card booth. Travel in carriages with more people and preferably in the conductor’s carriage (you will see him looking out the window of the train when it stops).
All that said, if you find yourself the victim of a crime, contact a police officer. In the event of an immediate emergency, call 911. Otherwise, call 311 (toll free from any public phone) and you will be directed to an officer who can take a report. 311 calls are answered 24 hours a day by a live operator.