Home WORLD NEWS Shootings Have Soared. Is the N.Y.P.D. Pulling Back?

Shootings Have Soared. Is the N.Y.P.D. Pulling Back?

by biasharadigest

First, a gunman shot a 23-year-old man in the leg on Monday afternoon in eastern Brooklyn, then fled in a red sport-utility vehicle.

Two hours later, five people were wounded within 20 minutes in drive-by attacks nearby. That evening, a bullet hit a 51-year-old bystander in the arm when someone pulled a gun during a dispute in a housing project a few miles away.

Those shootings are unsolved. The police say the violence this week stemmed from an escalating feud between two gangs — the kind of conflict that investigators believe is driving a summertime surge in shootings unlike anything the city has seen in more than two decades.

The recent spike, which included the killing of a baby hit by a stray bullet at a barbecue, has spurred growing and unusually harsh recriminations between some elected officials and the leadership of the police department, which is grappling with one of its biggest crises in years.

Arrest numbers have plummeted even as shootings have spiraled up, and some elected officials contend that rank-and-file police officers are staging a work slowdown in response to protests over police brutality and systemic racism that erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But senior police commanders say they believe that their inability to curb the shootings stems from the need to shift police resources to the protests, as well as a hostile political climate that has made officers reluctant to carry out arrests because of what they see as unfair scrutiny of their conduct.

Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea, in an interview on CNN on Thursday, tied the rise in shootings to the release of hundreds of people from Rikers Island under a new bail law and Covid-19 prevention measures. He also cited the partial shutdown of state courts during the pandemic, which has delayed gun cases.

“When you put those two factors together and now you add in an anti-police sentiment and new laws that do not help the police, it is a toxic, toxic environment,” he said.

Gun violence typically rises in summer, as warmer weather draws more people outside and tempers flare in the heat. But this year, the violence has been especially fierce in cities across the country: The coronavirus outbreak has deepened the endemic problems that often underlie gun violence, including poverty, unemployment, housing instability and hunger, experts on crime said.

“What we’re seeing is almost a perfect storm,” said Michael Sean Spence, policy and implementation director at Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group. “The pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of gun violence.”

At the same time, the unrest has eroded trust in the police, who depend heavily on the cooperation of witnesses and victims, at a time when departments are facing budget cuts to help cities offset the costs of fighting the pandemic, said Tom Scott, a social scientist in the policing research program at RTI International, a research nonprofit.

Along with New York, shootings have risen in other big cities, including Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Denver. The wave of violence has become enmeshed in a heated national debate over the future of policing after the death of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis.

In New York, the shootings showed no signs of slowing this week. The police said at least 44 people were shot between Monday and early Thursday morning, including a 16-year-old wounded as he walked down East 43rd Street in Brooklyn.

Police commanders have said that their response to the shootings has been hampered for several reasons.

For starters, as the protests gained momentum, the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, disbanded the plainclothes “anti-crime” units, which in the past targeted people carrying illegal guns, because the units had been involved in many police shootings that sparked public outrage.

At the same time, the pandemic’s toll on the force and the need to shift investigators to help cover protests strained resources, setting back investigations. Fewer shootings are being solved this summer than in previous years, compounding the cycle of violence, as assailants remain free to strike again or to become targets of retaliation.

“One shooting is turning into another shooting, is turning into another shooting, is turning to another shooting because we are unable to make an arrest,” the chief of detectives, Rodney Harrison, said.

There were 634 shootings through July 12, compared with only 396 in the same period last year, according to police data. Police have made arrests in 23 percent of shootings so far this year, Chief Harrison said, well below the usual clearance rate, which is just above 30 percent.

At the height of the pandemic, more than 7,000 officers — almost 20 percent of the force — were out sick, and hundreds of investigators were pulled from detective squads onto social-distancing patrols and, later, to help cover protests in late May and early June. Many have just returned to their original assignments investigating gang and drug activity.

Arrests have declined drastically this summer, falling by 62 percent across the board for the last four weeks compared with the same period last year, police data show. Narcotics arrests fell 85 percent. Detectives in the gang unit made 90 percent fewer arrests. There were similarly steep drops in the number of arrests by officers that patrol the subways and housing projects.

Gun arrests have dropped 67 percent during the same four weeks compared with last year, even as shootings have continued to spiral upward.

Some public officials who represent hard-hit parts of the city have accused the police of pulling back from their most basic responsibility — keeping the public safe — in response to the protests.

Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president and a former city police captain, said he has asked the mayor and police commissioner to investigate response times to determine whether rank-and-file police officers are conducting a work slowdown.

“I’m getting too many calls from different parts of the city where people are saying we’re not getting police responding to our calls,” he said.

Mr. Adams said one young woman, for instance, had told him that the police had not responded to her complaints about dice games that led to daily fights and arguments. A man also complained that the police dismissed him when he asked them to address people playing loud music at night.

Donovan J. Richards, the City Council member from southeast Queens who is the chairman of the public safety committee, said he had received similar complaints.

“Right now, communities are being held hostage by the cops and the robbers at the same time,” he said. “And it’s unfair to the folks who want a safe street but who also want safe, fair policing. There’s no contradiction in asking for the two.”

The Police Department said in a statement that its officers “are here today, and they will be here tomorrow, fulfilling their essential mission to protect life and property.”

But senior commanders have acknowledged morale among officers is low after weeks of protests and anti-police rhetoric, which led to the passage of laws aimed at ending the use of chokeholds and making disciplinary records public.

The recent arrests of two officers on charges they used unnecessary force have also discouraged some officers. Hundreds of officers have put in their retirement papers in the weeks since the protests began.

“The truth about the cops is, they’re a little off balance, because they don’t know where the floor or the ceiling is anymore,” said one senior police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Chief Terence A. Monahan, the top uniformed official, said in a radio interview that many officers are fearful they may be arrested if they take “proactive” steps to stop crime.

“There is a feeling on the street that the police are handcuffed, that they are not out there as aggressively as we were in the past,” he told 1010 WINS news.

The police are trying to address the backlog in shooting investigations by shifting 250 former anti-crime officers to detective squads, where Chief Harrison said the officers’ knowledge of the neighborhoods where they worked can be used to help identify people involved in shootings, especially now that many people wear masks.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced plans on Wednesday to step up police patrols in Brooklyn neighborhoods most affected by the recent shootings and to employ nonprofits that use former gang members to mediate disputes. “This is the way forward,” he said.

Even in the best of times, shootings can be notoriously difficult to solve, detectives say. Victims and witnesses are often distrustful of the police and sometimes turn down detectives’ pleas for help.

Some witnesses believe in street justice and a code in which people who cooperate with the authorities are branded snitches. Others fear they or their loved ones might be harmed if they come forward.

Some 2,000 shooting cases remain open and unsolved, including the murder of a man who was shot last week while walking with his 6-year-old daughter in the Bronx.

The police are also still searching for two gunmen who opened fire at a graduation party in the Bronx, killing a 19-year-old woman, and the assailant who shot a 17-year-old boy in the head in East Harlem.

Almost all the shooting victims so far this year have been Black or Latino, and more than half were men between the ages of 18 and 30, according to the police.

Mr. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said shootings in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, like the one that claimed the life of 1-year-old Davell Gardner on Sunday, warranted a stronger response from the police.

“Those are the type of incidents where you say this guy’s got to caught in the next 24, 48 hours,” he said. “The pain of a mother on Madison Street in Brooklyn is the same pain a mother would feel on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.”

On Monday, Lamar Gibson, 17, was shot in the head and killed shortly before midnight on Monday in the courtyard of the Washington Houses in East Harlem. He had hoped to become an engineer, his mother, LaToya Jack, said.

Lamar’s father had been killed almost 10 years ago on the same block, Ms. Jack said. The killers were never found.

“You know how it feels to look at the same detectives who couldn’t figure out who killed your children’s father, and now you’re putting your son, the same delicate situation, in their hands?” she asked.

Ali Watkins and Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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