NEW YORK (AP) — After witnessing an unnerving rash of violence during his first three weeks in office, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the city would step up efforts to seize illegal guns and institute a multi-pronged plan to tackle the issue, from streets to storefronts, buses to pews.
Adams, a former New York City police captain, rolled out his plan Monday after two New York City police officers were shot Friday, with one officer killed and another gravely injured.
“New Yorkers feel as if a sea of violence is engulfing our city. But as your mayor, I promise you I will not let this happen. We will not surrender our city to the violent few,” Adams said Monday afternoon at City Hall.
By most statistical measures, New York City has been afflicted in recent months by about the same level of crime it experienced in the early 2000s throughout the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg.
But a startling string of violent crimes across the city early in Adams’ administration could give him a mandate to strengthen a police department that, just 18 months ago, was fighting off calls to “defund the police.” It might also embolden those who want to roll back criminal justice reforms that some law enforcement officials claim is eroding hard-won declines in shootings and murders.
The violence rose to a crescendo Friday night when two police officers were shot in the city’s Harlem neighborhood. Officer Jason Rivera died and Officer Wilbert Mora was gravely wounded in what Adams has called “an attack on the city of New York.”
Adams, elected last year after pledging to be tougher on crime than some of his fellow Democrats, is attempting to follow through on that message with his new plan to end gun violence.
In a speech Monday, Adams announced the city’s police department would increase cooperation with state and federal law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal guns into the city and would work to have officers conduct spot checks for weapons at entry points into the city such at bus and train stations.
The mayor also wants the police department to use new technology to identify people carrying weapons, including facial recognition technology.
Adams plan also called for expanding cash rewards for tipsters who share information on gun-related crimes and for the city to help businesses pay to install surveillance cameras, including cameras that point toward the street. In return, the city will rely on those businesses to share footage with police should a crime occur.
The mayor even plans to rely on pastors and other faith leaders for a coordinated public safety message delivered via sermons to their congregations.
The plan also calls for starting or expanding programs for youth mentoring and youth employment, with the hope that it will keep young people occupied during school breaks when crime tends to increase.
Adams is also seeking more for resources for mental health care and said he will focus on appointing city judges who have a “demonstrated commitment” to keeping criminals who use guns off the city streets. It is not immediately clear what that demonstration would involve.
“The sea of violence comes from many rivers. We must dam every river that feeds this greater crisis,” Adams said.
Rivera, 22, and Mora, 27, were the fourth and fifth officers shot so far this year.
In the three weeks since Adams was sworn in, other crimes have shocked the public.
On Jan. 9, a teenage cashier was killed during a late-night shift at a fast-food restaurant in Manhattan. On Jan. 15, a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train at a Times Square subway station. Last week, an 11-month old was critically injured after being hit by a stray bullet while in a parked car.
Adams started his first day as mayor by calling 911 to report a fight near a subway station and admitted after the deadly Times Square assault that even he doesn’t feel safe taking the subway.
After a record low 292 homicides in 2017, the city had 468 killings in 2020 and 488 last year.
Still, New York has had far fewer killings of late than in the early 1990s — when there were more than 2,000 killings per year.
Nevertheless, the recent spate of violence has led to renewed calls from city officials and union leaders to revisit bail reform measures that took effect just a few months before the pandemic. There is little evidence that people spared from jail are responsible for the bulk of new crimes, but it’s among the areas Adams wants to tackle in his plan to try to end gun violence.
The mayor doesn’t want to do away entirely with bail reforms that took effect in January 2020, but he wants the law tweaked so that judges can consider a defendant’s criminal history and potential dangerousness in setting bail. New York is the only state that doesn’t allow that, Adams said.
Among the most controversial parts of Adams’ plan calls for bringing back an anti-crime unit in the police department that was disbanded amid police reform discussions two years ago. The plainclothes unit was dissolved amid concerns that it was responsible for a disproportionate number of shootings and complaints against officers.
Adams said the reincarnation of the anti-crime units will be accompanied by the city holding listening tours in neighborhoods and extra training, and officers will wear some clothing that identifies them as police, such as windbreakers.
Patrick Lynch, president of the city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, said the mayor “acknowledged the problem and outlined the beginnings of a plan.” Lynch called for more rollbacks to policing reform laws, stiffer penalties for gun crimes and more resources for “overstretched cops on the front lines.”
The mayor also called for help from Washington, saying Congress must pass legislation requiring universal background checks for firearm purchases and tougher penalties for a range of gun crimes.
On Twitter, follow Michelle L. Price at twitter.com/michellelprice and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
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