Queens sees dramatic decline in murder, but ‘staggering’ increase in opioid deaths: DA Brown

Queens sees dramatic decline in murder, but ‘staggering’ increase in opioid deaths: DA Brown
Photo by Mike Shain
By Bill Parry

The murder rate in the borough plunged to the lowest level in years, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced Tuesday, but the deadly drug crisis has worsened.

In his year-end message to residents of Queens, Brown noted that Queens again was among the city’s leaders in crime reduction in 2017, based on preliminary statistics released by the NYPD.

“In 2017, there were 50 homicides — the second-lowest number of homicides since 1961, the year John F. Kennedy was president and his namesake airport here in Queens was known as Idlewild Airport,” Brown said. “During the more than 26 years that I have had the privilege and honor of serving as district attorney of Queens County, our office has steadfastly committed itself to ensuring a safe environment for those who live, work and visit in Queens County. Through our law enforcement initiatives and the utilization of an array of cutting-edge interventions and prevention programs, we have made tremendous progress in accomplishing that goal which, in turn, has contributed greatly to New York City’s historic decline in serious and violent crime.”

Major crimes in Queens dropped by 7.9 percent in 2017, including an 18 percent downturn in auto crimes, a 4.8 percent drop in robberies and a 3.1 percent decline in felony assaults. Brown noted that NYPD statistics show that over the last 24 years, overall crime in Queens is down 82 percent, murders have fallen 82 percent and burglaries are down nearly 88 percent. During that time, auto thefts have declined nearly 97 percent.

“Although overall crime is historically at its lowest point in decades,” Brown said, “it doesn’t negate the fact that we have been facing a new and increasingly deadly drug crisis in our communities over the last several years, namely, heroin mixed with the synthetic drug fentanyl — an opioid painkiller 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. These two drugs combined is a deadly cocktail. As a result, we’ve seen staggering numbers of fatal overdoses — far outpacing homicides in Queens.”

Brown said his office is now tracking people who sell drugs containing fentanyl. In 2017, there were 172 cases of suspected fatal drug overdoses in the borough, with nearly a third containing the synthetic drug.

Brown’s office handled more than 57,000 cases overall in 2017.

“We continue to be, I believe, between the best and busiest prosecutor’s offices in the country,” he said.

Brown added his office would “vigorously pursue” hate crime cases against individuals who choose their victims based on religion, sexuality, the color of their skin, and other factors.

“In 1987, my office was the first district attorney’s office in New York City to establish a unit specifically focused on the prosecution of individuals who victimize others based on their own prejudices,” he said. “Hate crimes — whether motivated by sexual orientation, gender, religious or ethnic bias — tear at the very fabric of our society and will never be tolerated in Queens County.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.