Get Home Safe: Late Nights in a Low-Crime New York

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New York City’s crime rate is lower than it’s been in decades, but the recent rape and brutal murder of Immette Saint Guillen and the daily coverage it's received in the city’s newspapers raises the question "how safe it is to be out late at night?" WNYC’s Dan Blumberg spent a night out asking people how they get home safely.

There was no one answer. Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to walking the streets or taking the subway late night. And late night doesn’t begin at the same time for everyone either. For NYU graduate student Faye Hanlin, late starts pretty early.

HANLIN: Pretty much after dark I don’t take the subway. It’s just not worth the risk. I’m lazy, but it’s also just not worth the risk.

REPORTER: Faye, who grew up in Park Slope and now lives on the Upper East Side, says she also checks in with her friends before she goes to bed.

HANLIN: I definitely do the buddy system kind of thing when we go out. And after we go out I'll call or text or whatever and say did you get home? And we definitely do that because we all go our separate ways at the end of the night and you never know.

REPORTER: Faye also occasionally carries mace, won’t get into a cab that isn’t yellow, and always has her keys out and ready when she gets out of her taxi. Her vigilance ranked high. Sienna Ferris was closer to the other end of the spectrum.

FERRIS: I don't really ever feel unsafe in the city. I know it sounds strange, but there are usually so many people in the street that I could just yell.

REPORTER: Hanging out with friends at Gaslight on West 14th Street she said she takes cabs to get home to the East Village late at night, but not because she feels unsafe on the subway.

FERRIS: The subway takes too long at night… the L train, … when I first moved to the city I took the train, now that I make money – I mean I'm not rich – I take the cab… I don't feel like waiting.

REPORTER: Sienna hardly sounds like she feels invincible-- but she does worry about a friend who she thinks is a little overconfident.

FERRIS: I do have a friend who's here somewhere and she walks home a lot and I get very worried about her, cuz she gets wasted.

REPORTER: Sienna's friend is Aviva bat Avraham v'Sarah -- a muscular black woman with a tongue ring, wearing a white tank top. She’s doesn’t worry about going out by herself because she considers New York to be so much safer than her hometown of Dallas.

AVIVA: I am very secure in my method of getting home and I have honest to god ….touch wood… never been accosted or anything like that… and I will walk home drunk like nobody’s business and I live off of Christopher Street so I’ll have crack dealers like follow me home and all kinds of s—t but nothing bad has ever happened.

REPORTER: Immette Saint Guillen was also apparently drunk and alone on the night that she was killed and there has been criticism of her for that. Walking home alone wasted is not exactly something the police department encourages people to do, but at the same time, crimes like the rape and murder of Saint Guillen are NOT the norm. It’s true that most murders happen at night – 78% of the 540 murders last year occurred between 8pm and 4am – but 82% of the victims were male. Usually, drugs are a factor, the victim knows his or her killer and both have criminal records. And when it comes to rape, so called stranger rape is by far the least frequent type.

Still, some night owls, like Liz from Staten Island, says there’s safety in numbers.

LIZ: We never go out by ourselves, that’s just stupid.

REPORTER: Why is it stupid?

LIZ: With the recent events on the news and everything it’s just not safe to be out by yourself.

REPORTER: NYU graduate student Annie Nichols says she also tries to stay with a group and she won’t take the subway after midnight. But what her guy friends?

NICHOLS: My guy friends, hahaha, that’s a whole ‘nother story… are probably not as cautious. They may take a cab, but they won’t necessarily take a cab all the way to their door and may end up wandering around…

REPORTER: Williamsburg producer Adrien Lie doesn’t mind taking the subway late or walking around at night.

LIE: My neighborhood is pretty safe. There actually was a mugging there a couple months ago, but I can take care of myself. It’s not like a boastful thing, but it’s you know I’ve never been mugged I’ve never encountered anything. I think New York is pretty safe.

REPORTER: Saskya Fonsugaten might agree with Adrien, but as she waited at the West Fourth St. station a little before midnight—her plan to get home seemed a little hazy.

FONSUGATEN: I don’t even know if I can take this train

REPORTER: As an E train pulled into the station, the foreign exchange student from Berlin who’s only been in the states for a few weeks said she stayed out a later than she’d planned and now had a long trip home.

FONSUGATEN: Actually I’m a little scared since I have to go all the way to Far Rockaway. I’m not looking forward to travel at that length late at night, but I have to… I don’t know.

REPORTER: Eventually an A train arrived to take Saskya on a long local stops journey home.

For WNYC, I’m Dan Blumberg