Thursday, July 10, 2014
NYPD FACING A PARADOX
CRIME CONTINUES TO DECREASE
WHILE SHOOTINGS INCREASE
The 47th Precinct on Laconia Avenue in The Bronx is one of three Precincts
experiencing an increase in shootings while overall crime rates continue to fall.
TAGS: NYPD, NYC UPTICK IN SHOOTINGS, NYCHA,
BILL BRATTON ORDERS 1,000 OFFICER “SURGE”,
HOUSING PROJECTS, STREET CRIME, THE BAD OLD DAYS,
NYC HISTORY, NYPD HISTORY LATE 1960’S – 1992,
VERTICAL PATROL, PARADOX AND PERSPECTIVE
(Thursday July 10, 2014, The Bronx, NYC) Despite the continuation of a 21 year long trend of decreasing crime rates in all major categories in New York City, there has been an increase in shooting incidents particularly in three Precincts that are home to some of the largest public housing complexes owned and operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). As the most up to date raw numbers indicate many of these shooting incidents are between rival gang members involved in the trafficking of drugs while still others are emblematic of the “tit for tat” mentality that is a hallmark of street gangs. The concentration of shootings in public housing projects has lead Mayor Bill de Blasio to request the City Council to allocate $2.4 million dollars to address some of the social ailments associated with living in the projects. He said the extra funds would go towards more educational and employment opportunities for the residents in these complexes as well as improving the appearance of the complexes themselves where maintenance of the buildings and grounds have not been priorities. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has not asked for additional funding to hire more Police Officers opting instead to reassign almost 1,000 Officers currently manning desk jobs or administrative positions and “surging” them into the high crime neighborhoods often partnered with new graduates from the NYPD Academy. Bratton has said if by the end of the summer the trend of increased shootings has not curtailed he will reevaluate his position on hiring more Officers.
PARADOX AND PERSPECTIVE
Only native New Yorkers of a certain age can recall the “bad old days”; the really bad old days. In 1992 there were over 2,300 homicides in NYC but that was just the goriest tip of a far deeper, darker criminal presence, a presence that had driven the quality of life for many New Yorkers down to the point of disgust. But, if we take a few more steps back to widen our perspective it becomes evident that from the mid 1970’s and all thru the 1980’s our City was taking it on the chin with no end in sight. Some might recall when Mayor Abe Beame requested emergency federal funding from President Gerald Ford as NYC teetered on the brink of insolvency and bankruptcy. Ford’s reply, paraphrased but powerful, was printed across the front page of the New York Daily News in a famous headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead” certainly captured the essence of how many New Yorkers felt. We lived through the racial turmoil of the mid 1960’s and its militant bastardized offspring embodied by the “Black Power” movement whose members had declared their war on Police Officers and sadly managed to assassinate several in the Line of Duty. By the last years of the 1970’s The Bronx was burning as were many neighborhoods in upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. By the 1980’s, the “Reagan years” NYC saw an onslaught of homeless people most of who had been left without a residence when President Reagan effectively closed virtually all public mental health care facilities across the country. One study conducted by Columbia University in 1985 estimated a homeless population of over 400,000 the majority of whom suffered from some mental illness. And then came crack; the new kid on the street drug block that provided a rapid high when smoked and an almost immediate addiction that further fueled street crime as crack addicts needed money for their daily fix. Meanwhile, a new virus was just beginning to get a little public attention but, since it was initially most prevalent among homosexuals and intravenous drug abusers many of whom were African American and Hispanic and concentrated in well-defined ghetto neighborhoods, AIDS was permitted to run rampant through the most vulnerable communities. As the 80’s gave way to the 90’s, New Yorkers had had enough and actually elected a Republican (a small “r” republican), a tough talking, mob breaking former federal prosecutor to be the savior and Rudy Giuliani took the reins of City government in 1994. He appointed former Transit Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to serve as the “Top Cop” at One Police Plaza and, as they say, the rest is history.
This brief stroll down the dank and dirty streets of yesterday is provided only to serve as a point of reference, to lend a perspective on where we were as a City not all that long ago and where we are today. The contrasts, particularly for natives, are remarkable. New York City is currently and has been for the last ten years, by anyone’s measures and metrics, the “safest large city in the world”. That is no idle, shallow claim. It is a fact and it was years of hard fought pitched battles by NYPD on our streets and on our subways, in our parks and in our projects, neighborhood by neighborhood, patrol sector by control sector sometimes, block by block. But, it was done. Last year NYC had 333 homicides compared to over 2,300 in 1992. NYC has been revitalized in many ways and is now the number one tourist destination in the world. We could continue to extol the virtues of our City but that would be just preaching to the choir.
Like so many other well intended social policies and practices in our past, one of the most abysmal concepts were the creation of public housing complexes commonly referred to as “The Projects”. The projects were complexes of tall apartment houses that were essentially islands in and of themselves. There were no grocery stores, butchers, drug stores; absolutely no commercial enterprise at all. The residents were forced to walk long distances simply to purchase the most basic essentials needed. The population density in some of the most notorious Projects such as Co-Op City in The Bronx was staggering; something in the order of 27,000 people living in apartment buildings spread over 20 acres. In many places the old Projects are a thing of the past; they remain alive only in the memories of those who lived there and those who lived in the neighborhoods surrounding them and the men and women who policed them. The few large NYCHA Projects that remain are home to some of the City’s poorest residents and the logistical problems that have always plagued the Projects remain. While in some neighborhoods in the City gangs and wannabe gangs stake out turf measured by corners, intersections and blocks, those in the Projects tussle over a single basketball court, a row of benches or just some barren ground that form the uneven contours of turf that is discernible only to those who live there.
By their very nature the Projects have always posed unique policing challenges. The sheer population density alone presents itself living in cramped and crowded apartments lining dank and dirty corridors accessible by shadowy stairwells since often the elevators are simply inoperable. To the uninitiated the identical corridors and stairways appear to be a maze where a person can vanish through an unremarkable apartment door with only the echo of that slamming door indicating activity. Those in NYPD who have worked in the Housing Police before it was fully incorporated with NYPD and is now managed as Housing Patrol Service Areas are all too familiar with the close confines, the odd acoustics, the smells and turmoil that can be festering behind any one of those scarred but anonymous doors. A standard practice in place for many years has been the Vertical Patrol. Police Officers will take an elevator (if one is in service) to the uppermost floor and walk each corridor from one end to the next, walk down the stairs to the next floor and repeat the process. The sameness of each floor and stairway, the irregular lighting and elongated shadows of each corridor can become claustrophobic in a short time; the odd sense of passively suffocating can tip any Cop into that sweaty phase of hyper alertness that can be as physically taxing as all the walking up and down itself.
There is small wonder that the Precincts with the highest increases in gun violence and shooting episodes include Projects within its borders. Given the uncomfortable proximity of people in the Projects, a profound degree of being uncooperative with the Police is endemic among the residents. This is true in housing projects everywhere be they in Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, or any of the other large cities that underwent “Urban Renewal” under President Lyndon Johnson as a component of his “Great Society” Agenda of 1964. Some have called the advent of housing projects as a subtle experiment of “social engineering” and, it may have been. Whatever its origins and intent has long ago been lost in the realities that are as stained and weathered as the aging facades of the looming towers.
CORRELATIONS AND EXPLANATIONS
The recent increase in gun violence is seen by many to be directly attributed to the dramatic scaling down of the controversial “Stop, Question and Frisk” policy that had yielded such significant results during the tenure of Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. That it was derided as “racial profiling” and as a “heavy handed” tactic is debatable. The results, however, speak for themselves. Were the jaw dropping decreases in crimes of every sort the result of SQF or not? That answer will not be found in sophisticated mathematical models, pie charts, graphs or oceans of statistical data. It is counterintuitive to believe that the two had no bearing on each other. As flawed as the practice might have been the simple fact remains that bad guys were being taken off the streets. The “Broken Window” theory, once the Golden Calf of policing for Giuliani and Bratton, did in fact prove to be extremely effective. While then candidate Bill e Blasio blasted Bloomberg, Kelly and SQF at every turn, since the incidences of SQF have been reduced by almost 300% compared to this time last year and now we see this spike in gun violence, is there a correlation? It may not have been the actual practice of SQF that helped crime drop but simply the notion of it. Bad guys were acutely aware that NYPD was very aggressive with this tactic so many bad guys left their guns at home rather than run the risk of getting swept up in a SQF scenario. Among Law Enforcement Professionals, Criminologists, Sociologists, and those who study urban issues, it is common knowledge that the Police do not “keep the peace”; it is the concept OF the Police that keeps the peace. Most people are honest, law abiding citizens not ever inclined to break any law. Their opposites are the “10%ers” that 10% segment of the populace who commit 100% of the crime. Those are the people that are typically untroubled by the concept of the Police; they will commit their crimes under any circumstances and usually expect to get away with it. That is the segment of the population that SQF was intended to receive the message that NYPD was going to be proactively aggressive within the well-defined contours of the law and that yes, the Police is more than a concept. Others will cite a wide variety of factors and influences that have driven crime rates down nationwide but most notably in New York City.
John and Mark Sebastian of the old rock and roll band “The Luvin’ Spoonful”, wrote the famous lyrics to their hit song, “Summer in the City” in 1966. As the words go: “Hot town, summer in the city Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty. Been down, isn't it a pity? Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city”. Any urban dweller can relate to this classic song. New Yorkers in particular feel an affinity with these opening lyrics. The asphalt, cement, brick and glass edifices that create our “Concrete Canyons” retain the day’s heat especially when there is not a breeze to be felt. Passions run higher in the summer, the heat affects some people in negative ways and, just as sure as Friday leads to Saturday, the crime rate goes up as the mercury in the thermometer rises. The subways stations become vaulted ceilinged rotisseries and the sun glares off the skyscrapers windows nastily. With this recent but highly localized increase in gun crime, hopefully the additional Police Officers that will be reassigned to some of the City’s “hot spots” crime-wise, will be able to make a dent in this disturbing trend. The Summer is always a more challenging time for Police everywhere. People living in the old five-story walk-ups and in the Projects seek relief from their stifling apartments outdoors. More alcohol is consumed. The friendly game of dominoes that began at 3 in the afternoon in front of the local bodega is a drunken argument by 3 AM. It is a simple fact of City life.
But, no one should panic. The comparisons to what we are experiencing today with what we lived through in the 1980’s is not only inaccurate, it is disingenuous. There were weekends in 1983 when there were more homicides committed in NYC than are perpetrated in two months today. That is the perspective we need to retain. Anyone who is shouting from the rooftops and ringing the bells of impending doom in the form of a crime wave does not know what they are talking about. So, for those of us who do remember and do know where we were and how far we’ve come, it is our obligation to speak the truth to the critics, eggheads, blowhards and whiners.
Commissioner Bratton’s reassignment of some Police Officers out of their current jobs and back to the streets has been a cause of concern and some consternation from Patrick Lynch, the President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA). Both Bratton and Lynch have valid points and, perhaps, should work together, at least publicly for this 90 day “surge period”. It’s effectiveness will be accessed in late August and, Bratton has vowed to carefully consider the “bigger picture” when it comes to hiring more Officers, permitting overtime, and other matters that are important to the rank and file MOS. We will all see where we are come August. For the present, we might as well get behind this surge and hope for the best; the best being, a decrease in shooting incidents particularly in those Precincts currently bearing this difficult burden.
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