New York City – the Big Apple – is tantalizing. As the largest city in the U.S. with nearly 8.5 million residents in Manhattan and its other four boroughs (Staten Island, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens), it’s a veritable playground for any sort of tourist activity you can imagine. The city is top of the charts for tourism, welcoming nearly 63 million visitors a year to its myriad restaurants, museums, parks, and entertainment venues.
Despite its reputation as a place where anything goes, crime has been on the decline in New York City for decades. In fact, the New York City crime rate has plummeted from more than 2,200 murders in 1990 to around 280 in 2017. Statistics from 2018 appear to be on track as well. Every category of criminal activity has plunged over nearly 30 years to levels unseen since the 1950s, experts say
Temptations for Tourists
There are still plenty of ways that a tourist can get into trouble in New York. It is, as Sinatra famously sang, the City that Never Sleeps. There are over 7,600 places to get alcohol, for instance, and around 12,000 when beer and wine-only establishments are counted. That ingredient fuels plenty of mischief, allowing people to step to the stage for karaoke solos or to explore some of the city’s less-known attractions like the interactive Museum of Sex.
Still, there are plenty of things that tourists should not do in New York. Challenging police officers is one, as a recent study of misdemeanor arrests from 1993-2016 show that complaint-originated arrests (calls to police) have fallen but police-initiated arrests for misdemeanors have increased. That means police are picking up more people for small infractions, likely running their identities for outstanding warrants, and generally taking no flak. It is a continuation of the “broken windows policing” strategy from the 1990s that is often credited with turning around the crime rate and the city’s image as a dangerous, filthy place to visit.
Recent NYC Tourist Mishaps
With or without the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the feeling of anonymity that New York allows, visitors still get into trouble here. Some recent incidents are clear indications of what’s allowed in this city where you may see anything from the Times Square Naked Cowboy to colorful St. Patrick’s Day parade dancers.
- Carrying guns. Although the city has become immeasurably safer, its image as a crime-ridden hell-hole still makes some people nervous enough to bring guns to New York – or perhaps these people are simply accustomed to carrying guns – or they could be up to no good themselves. In any case, nonresidents are frequently arrested in New York city for carrying or possessing handguns which are illegal here. In one case, a maid at a hotel found a Glock under a mattress and reported it to police, who arrested its owner, despite it being legally-licensed in his home state. A woman who flew to New York with a gun legally carried in a gun safe in her luggage was arrested when she tried to fly home from New York. And another man was arrested in New York simply for having a (malfunctioning) empty magazine for bullets. According to the Giffords Law Center for gun control information, New York is ranked 5th in the nation for strict gun laws, which is in part related to the prohibition on handguns in New York City.
- Subway surfing. Everyone knows that New York’s subway system is like an underground Kraken, its tentacles reaching into each neighborhood to capture executives and beggars alike. While the underground system has a culture all its own (and you may see disguised celebrities busking as a stunt, for example), don’t take your safety for granted. If you miss a train, never jump on the outside to “subway surf” as it can be hazardous to your health – and is a criminal act beside. Several people die or are terribly injured each year trying this stunt, which involves either climbing on the roof of a train hurtling through the city or hanging onto the outside, such as on a doorstep.
- Don’t climb the Statue of Liberty. New York is an epicenter of media, which makes political statements and stunts an easy decision. One woman, a Congolese immigrant, decided to climb the Statue of Liberty on July 4 to make a statement about recent actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that include taking the children of asylum-seekers at the Mexican border. The stunt included a more than 3-hour standoff with police during which she insisted that all asylum-seekers be released at the border.
- Drone damage. Getting selfies at New York’s premiere destinations, such as in Times Square, at sunset on the Staten Island Ferry, or while standing atop the Empire State Building with the city skyline glittering below will make you popular on Instagram. Just be careful where you use your drone in the city. Some city parks allow drone flying (check this page for information) but sending one up among the highrises of Manhattan is likely to get you arrested. Drones are illegal in all parts of Manhattan.
- Joining political protests. Plenty of people are unhappy about the country’s current political climate (see #3 above), but one sure way to get acquainted with the judicial system in New York City is to get arrested for blocking a street, trespassing in a building, or defacing property to make your point. Because the city is a media hotspot and the current president’s name is on a prominent skyscraper where he maintains a residence, Trump Tower has become a favorite for protestors. New York police have arrested dozens in very frequent events there, so if you want to make a point without spending time in custody, you should learn about your First Amendment rights and choose to join a permitted event.