By Tom Allon
A savvy political friend recently described to me in a simple, glib way why shootings generally go up in the summer and stay low in the winter.
“People start hanging out outside when the weather gets warm, they have a couple of drinks and then if someone pisses someone off, it can lead to a shooting in certain neighborhoods,” he said. “In the winter, everyone’s inside, so this kind of thing rarely happens.”
Well, it is not quite that simple, but shootings generally spike during the summer, and this summer so far they are up more than 10 percent from last year.
This past weekend there were 12 shootings in the city. This alarming trend has led some to question whether this is because of the new administration and the steep decrease in stop-and-frisks. This line of thinking was inevitable, but it seems too early to discern a trend, and we should all take a deep breath and calm down.
Stop-and-frisk was an extremely controversial policy used frequently during the Bloomberg administration. Then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly faced a lot of criticism during the mayoral campaign of 2013 that his department was unfairly profiling young black and Latino men, who made up the vast majority of those stopped-and-frisked.
There was even a controversial court case that was decided last summer — right near the end of the campaign — that sought to limit the Police Department’s ability to use stop-and-frisk as a crime tool.
While this was going on, the number of stop-and-frisks dropped quite precipitously anyway and still the rate of major crimes continued its steep decline in 2013 as the waning days of the Bloomberg administration came to a close.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a wise choice when he picked Bill Bratton to be police commissioner because of Bratton’s strong track record in not only reducing crime, but in smoothing relations between the Police Department and the community. He did this most famously in Los Angeles, and now Bratton has been working quietly and effectively to bring the NYPD into the post-stop-and-frisk era.
There has been much debate of late about whether we have enough police on the streets to keep New York the safest large city in America
When Mike Bloomberg took office in 2002, there were more than 35,000 police in the city, a number that dwindled to 31,000 by the end of his 1å2 years in office. It is a testament to Bloomberg and Kelly that they were able to keep reducing crime and terrorists at bay with fewer resources.
But during the mayoral campaign a few candidates vowed to increase the police force again.
In the recent budget negotiations, the City Council, led by Melissa Mark-Viverito, pushed for adding 1,000 more police to the force, but surprisingly de Blasio and Bratton opposed this. The final compromise called for adding just 200 more police, a fiscally prudent move by de Blasio, but perhaps one that will look short-sighted if crime and shootings continue to spike once summer ends.
Last week, Bratton announced that he was moving 400 senior desk personnel to patrol the streets for the summer as part of an “all hands on deck” initiative, which was perhaps prompted by the recent rounds of high weekend violence.
Crime fighting in New York has become much more sophisticated in recent years, with even units created that use social media to infiltrate gangs to reduce gang violence, which accounts for a high percentage of violent crime in the city. That example may largely explain why crime fighting has become so much more efficient and thus not as labor intensive as it was in the 1980s and ’90s.
No matter what, de Blasio and Bratton were wise to commission a study to see if the recent rise in shootings had any correlation to the drop in stop-and-frisks. Those who lived in New York 20 and 30 years ago sometimes worry the city could sink back to the days of the Wild West when more than 2,000 murders a year were the norm (vs. less than 400 last year).
Keeping the city safe and educating our children are the most important jobs the mayor has, and these two are related. But now that school’s out, the weather’s getting much hotter and people are spending more time outside drinking and partying, we need to make sure the Thin Blue Wall is sufficiently manned to keep us safe.
Adding 200 police and getting 400 more out of the office and onto the streets is a good start.
Stay tuned during the next two months to find out if this is enough to keep the impressive drop in crime of the past two decades on its steady descent downward or whether it is time to rethink some policing levels and methods.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.