It’s unfair to judge a police department solely against the crime stats of the previous year. Numbers can fluctuate from one year to the next. What matters is improvement over the long run.
Over the past few months, there has been much attention on the rising number of shootings in New York City this year–up 10 percent from this time last year. Must be the fault of new mayor De Blasio or new stop-and-frisk policies, some have said. But then there’s also this stat: the number of shootings are down 22 percent from this time two years ago.
This is the message the NYPD has been trying to get people to understand. The city is, in fact, getting safer with time.
That was certainly the message an anonymous police source passed along to the New York Post. The paper’s Monday headline read: “City’s law-abiding residents safer than ever despite shootings surge.” Robberies and homicides are down across the board. And most neighborhoods in New York City have never been safer.
As the source told the paper, “If you’re a gang member dealing drugs, you ought to be worried. If you’re not, you certainly have a lot less to worry about.”
As the Post conveyed:
“A very significant number of the shootings are related in one way or another to gang activity,” a police source said. For example, the largest number of shootings–29 percent–were tied to “disputes,” and nearly another quarter were “clearly” gang-related, the NYPD findings show. In addition, some 13 percent of shooting were linked to “drugs,” and 5 percent were motivated by “revenge.”
The causes of the remaining shootings were not available.
Most of this year’s shootings–about 75 percent–have occurred in Brooklyn or The Bronx, usually in neighborhoods plagued by “considerable gang activity,” the source added. Those neighborhoods include Brownsville in Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct and the 47th Precinct in The Bronx, which includes Wakefield, Edenwald and Baychester.
Which isn’t much comfort to the residents of those neighborhoods, where stray bullets do not distinguish between a “gang member dealing drugs” and a “law-abiding citizen.” Which also doesn’t get into the murky territory of what “gang-related” really means at a time when block-based crews with no initiation process or structure have replaced hierarchical drug organizations as the primary social grouping for boys seeking protection and identity in inner-city neighborhoods. And which seems to trivialize the underlying social, economic, and psychological forces that push teenage boys to turn “disputes” into shootouts.
It’s well-know that Brownsville has one of the highest murder rates in the city. Brownsville always gets mentioned in these types of stories. The Bronx 47th too this year. The total number of murders in these communities makes them tragic outliers.
The number of gunshot victims has jumped 55 percent from last year in the 47th. Brownsville has experienced a 30 percent increase in shooting victims from last year to this year.
But it would be misguided to think that the number of shootings is dropping in almost every other community. When the data is stretched over five years, rather than just two, it turns out that Brownsville and the north Bronx are not major contributors to the “shootings surge.”
In fact, 14 of the city’s 76 precincts have seen an increase in the number of shooting victims over the last five years. The Bronx 47th is not one of them: This year’s rate is 10.6 percent lower than 2009’s. And Brooklyn’s 73rd barely makes the cut: Since 2009, the number of shooting victims in Brownsville has ticked up by one, from 55 to 56 (1.8 percent)
By contrast, the number of shooting victims in the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg has increased from seven this time in 2009 to 16 this year (225 percent). In the 30th Precinct in Harlem, the number of shooting victims has increased from four in 2009 to 13 this year (128.6 percent). In the 114th Precinct in Astoria, that number has jumped from nine in 2009 to 17 in 2014 (88.9 percent).
Six other precincts have seen the number of gunshot victims rise by 50 percent or more since 2009. Several more saw milder increases.
Tying the increase in city-wide shootings to “gang activity” in Brownsville and a few other places suggests that some recent policy change or service cut or gang war has triggered a sudden outburst of violence. In truth, the root causes are embedded deep and have been for decades. Once the violence stemmed from rival drug factions battling for money and territory. Now, it stems from escalating personal conflicts between young men with guns in their waistbands and anger and fear in their hearts.
Of course New York City is not a safe place for them. It hasn’t been for at least three generations.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 26, 2014