Crime is up — and it feels like the city is headed back to the 1970s

There’s a terrific hyperlocal Web site for my Manhattan neighborhood called West Side Rag, which tells you about restaurants that are opening and closing, controversies erupting over new construction or bike lanes and the like. But over the past year, frightening changes on the Upper West Side have given the site a new urgency as the primary source for local information on the skyrocketing crime problem.

Every few days, there’s another story.

One of the more recent: “At 3:35 p.m., a 53-year-old man walking south on Broadway at 88th Street was pushed from behind by a man in his 20s, who took his cellphone and fled southbound on Broadway. . . . ‘I was there when it happened,’ e-mailed Christine, one of the people who tipped us off to the incident. ‘The perpetrator ran past me and the man who was robbed fell face first on the sidewalk busting open his nose and chipping one of his front teeth.’ ”

That’s four blocks from where I live — on a Sunday afternoon on a busy sidewalk.

This might seem like an isolated anecdote, but according to official statistics, the number of similar crimes in this precinct has doubled over the same period last year — and by nearly 27 percent over the past two years. Petty larcenies are up 22 percent. The numbers don’t lie. The 24th Precinct, my home now and in my childhood, is becoming far less safe.

We all feel it, across Gotham.

The three-decade-long crime wave that was the unalterable fact of daily life in New York City began in 1964, when I was 3 years old. I was mugged four times before I was 14. My sisters, nine and 10 years older than I, were robbed at gunpoint in the vestibule of an Upper West Side building where they shared an apartment; it could’ve been worse.

The problem went beyond suffering crime first-hand. Porn shops and theaters littered the streetscape, along with indigent denizens, from the mentally ill homeless to grifter squeegee men. The simple act of making one’s way to and from work or school back home and out again became a constant source of anxiety; menace reigned.

The crime wave’s reversal really began in 1994, when I was 33. Within a few years, New York regained its status as a civil society, and the positive changes only deepened in the next two decades, despite calamities like 9/11, the 2003 blackout and the 2008 financial meltdown.

The memory of the bad old days led many of us to warn in apocalyptic terms of the dangers of electing Bill de Blasio in 2013, with his ideological obsession with alleged police misconduct. But more than half the electorate that year had never lived in a frightening Gotham; our warnings fell on deaf ears.

What has changed? Most recently, there is the radical new policy mandating bail-free release even of violent arrestees, many of whom have gone right back out and committed more crimes. But as the two-year numbers suggest, the reversal of New York’s outbreak of civic pleasantness is of longer standing.

It really does begin with the election of de Blasio and the decision to downgrade “broken-windows” policing. The decision to stop enforcing vagrancy statutes was the original sin.

What followed almost immediately was the precipitous decline of general orderliness on the subways. The laissez-faire attitude ­toward indigent behavior turned the underground into a panhandler’s paradise and a rolling dormitory populated by odiferous sleeping guests.

When criminals witness the decline of public authority, they are emboldened to free their ids.

De Blasio often cites the continuing decline in murders as proof he has been a responsible steward of the Big Apple’s good order — but even at its lowest point, New York was only the 11th-worst city in the country when it came to the murder rate. No, it was the menace — as typified by the muggings like the one on Broadway and 88th Street — that made the city nearly unlivable.

We are years away from a return to that kind of hellscape. But we’re on the road to it.

jpodhoretz@gmail.com

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