New York City is the largest city in the United States and the setting for Death Wish, Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 5: The Face of Death. Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 5: The Face of Death take place in specific neighborhoods in New York rather than the city as a whole as in Death Wish. It is also the setting for the novel Death Wish which Death Wish is based on.
In Death Wish, New York is a huge crime ridden city where Paul Kersey, his wife Joanna and their daughter Carol try their best to live a normal life and avoid crime. Upon returning home from vacation in Hawaii, Paul is informed by one of his co-workers about the rising crime rate in the city. In fact in the 1970's, crime in New York was so bad, it had it's only ever population decrease. After the Freaks kill Paul's wife and his daughter is left in a traumatized state, Paul sets out to rid the city of crime. The city is depicted as a cold and unforgiving place where crime is apart of daily life. As Paul's vigilante actions continue, the citizens of New York react positively to them and are inspired to stand up to criminals. Crime in the city drops as muggers are afraid to go out at night. Paul makes a firm statement against crime that forever stayed with the city and paved the way for a new way to stop crime, vigilantism.
In the novel Death Wish, New York City is portrayed very similarly to the way it is portrayed later in the film Death Wish. It has the same plot as Death Wish but takes place in a different continually, with slightly different characters. In it, after Paul Benjamin's wife and daughter are attacked, he becomes a vigilante and begins killing muggers. He is later captured by the police and moves to Chicago. The city is still the same vast expanse of crime ridden neighborhoods as it is in the film and crime rates are extremely high.
In Death Wish 3, much like in Death Wish, New York City is still portrayed a huge crime ridden city where people try their best to avoid criminals and gangs. The film is set primarily in a neighborhood of New York known as East New York located in the borough of Queens. The neighborhood had once been a quiet place where many elderly people and young families lived without any trouble. At some point an extremely violent gang known as the Street Punk Gang began terrorizing the residents of the neighborhood. Crime rates shot through the roof and the local police were helpless to stop it. Lt. Richard Shriker recruited the help of former vigilante Paul Kersey after he released him from jail on the condition that he would help the police rid the streets of crime. Soon after Paul began killing off members of the gang but the gang always struck back. Eventually, an all out battle broke out between the residents of East New York led by Paul and the Street Punk Gang led by Manny Fraker. After Paul killed Manny, the Street Punk Gang left the neighborhood and it is assumed that it returned to being a decent place.
In Death Wish 5: The Face of Death, New York City is depicted as having generally lower crime rates than in the 1970's and 1980's and it is set in Manhattan's Garment District which is mainly high class businesses. There are also a few restaurants and cafes in the neighborhood. Although there is relatively low street crime, at least in the Garment District, organized crime is very prevalent. Irish mobster Tommy O'Shea and his crime family of mainly Italians run the rackets in the Garment District and are involved heavily in police corruption. One of the rackets his gang controls is Olivia Regent's fashion factory where he takes most of her profits. After causing too much trouble for him to take including killing Olivia and kidnapping her daughter Chelsea, Paul Kersey who was dating Olivia takes action against Tommy. The city's level of police corruption had complicated Olivia and Paul from taking legal action against Tommy so Paul used his vigilante skills to kill the main members of the O'Shea Gang including Tommy and rescue Olivia. With Tommy gone it is assumed that organized crime operations in the neighborhood either stopped completely or Tommy's operations were taken over by either the Italian Mafia or another Irish crime family.