Gun violence in New York City is on the rise. Since January, the number of shooting victims has increased by 11.8 percent compared to the same period last year. And the most recent NYPD Compstat data shows an even more dramatic rise in the past few weeks, with 120 people shot from May 19 through June 15 compared to 92 last year, an increase of 30.4 percent.
The question is why? One argument is that the use of the controversial practice of stop, question and frisk has been drastically reduced. The practice as it was being used was ruled unconstitutional last year and in 2014 stops are down around 90 percent and gun confiscations have also dropped.
But Police Commissioner William Bratton says that the reform of stop and frisk is unrelated to the increase in shootings and also notes that overall homicides are down significantly. New York City Councilmember Robert Cornegy agrees and told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman that “The stop question and frisk and the reduction of that does not correlate to the increase or the uptick in gun violence. When stop, question and frisk was in full effect, less than one percent yielded…a weapon.”
Cornegy said that “it’s a numbers game” when it comes to comparing increases in shootings to decreases in gun confiscations and also in looking at the numbers for particular neighborhoods compared to the city as a whole. He suggested that the solution is to treat gun violence as a public health issue, starting at the federal level. “We don’t know whether or not gun violence is related to lower incomes, whether it’s related to poor education, poor housing, we just don’t know,” he said. “But we do know that there are mental health concerns in and around these violent acts throughout the country.”
When pressed to propose a more short-term solution, Councilmember Cornegy said that it is critical to fund violence interruption programs that work directly with those in the affected neighborhoods. “We know that having ‘soldiers’ on the street working directly with young people, finding out what’s going on, gang intelligence, all of those kinds of things, not just from a police department perspective but from a non-profit status perspective,” is effective, he said.
The City Council had also requested 1,000 additional police officers to patrol the streets as part of budget negotiations with Mayor Bill de Blasio. “There was a time period when people were really afraid to speak out,” Cornegy told Pi Roman. “The violence has gotten so egregious that people are beginning to see that they have no alternative but to work with the police and to have conversations with their own community”
The final budget agreement granted only 200 new patrol officers, reassigned from desk duty. It’s a compromise that Cornegy said is acceptable to him, because the 200 officers will be focused on community policing. “A lot of us at the City Council don’t believe that just 1,000 officers would have made the difference necessary without police and community relations,” he said. “And police officers will tell you that there’s no way to stop crime based on a ratio of officer – even if it was 1,000 new officers – to citizens. To really reduce crime they believe that partnership between and collaboration between the community and the police department is what’s necessary.”
Cornegy is also spearheading a memorial initiative in his Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights district. Life-sized, human-shaped black cutouts will be placed at the sites of fatal street violence incidents to serve as reminders and raise awareness. “We’ve gotten tremendously desensitized, especially our young people, to violence and to the deaths related to the violence,” Cornegy said. “So what we want to do is leave for 30 days a monument on that place that says that someone actually died here, to begin a conversation.”
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