NYPD launching quality-of-life initiative; critics fear return to 'broken windows'

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- In response to the increased numbers of shootings and thefts in New York City, as well as a rise in quality-of-life offenses that officials say contribute to crime and disorder, the NYPD on Wednesday announced a citywide initiative to crack down on such offenses.

The initiative, which NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said is a response to the public-safety concerns of everyday New Yorkers, will deploy NYPD officers across boroughs and bureaus.

They will work in tandem to rapidly identify and respond to crime trends and to address the conditions that fuel them.

"As I stated on my first day as commissioner, after visiting an officer who was shot two hours and 39 minutes into the New Year, there are too many people carrying illegal guns and too many people willing to use them," Sewell said. "That has to change. Now."

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The plan is not without critics, however, including Legal Aid Society, which called the program the reinstatement of so-called broken windows policing championed by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Let's be clear: this plan reinstates broken-windows policing, and it will undoubtedly send more Black and Latinx New Yorkers to Rikers Island, a facility that is wholly incapable of caring for the people in its custody," said Jennvine Wong, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project. "Broken-windows policing has long been discredited for furthering mistrust between the police and the communities we serve, and this rebranded version will yield those same results, with the same disparate enforcement. This is a botched opportunity for Mayor (Eric) Adams to address the root cause of crime - poverty and a lack of robust services - and this plan will set our entire city back decades."

The NYPD recently enhanced its targeted gun-enforcement efforts with the deployment of the department's new Neighborhood Safety Teams. Now, the department says uniformed officers on patrol will be augmenting the mission of these Safety Teams by expanding their focus beyond 911 calls, offering proactive engagement with offenders who commit violations that lead up to an act of violence.

Sewell said the enforcement initiative is community-driven and is a direct response to the victims of violent crime.

"We must address every public-safety concern in every New York City neighborhood, and we will never tolerate any increased threats to the people we serve," the department said in a press release.

The NYPD outlined what it calls community complaints that can be precursors to violence, including: the open-air selling of narcotics, including marijuana; public drinking; public urination; dice games that lead to disputes and shootings; and the dangers of unlicensed, unregistered, or uninsured drivers operating on the most crowded city streets in the nation.

"These are the things that people are calling to complain about," Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said. "The NYPD owes them a response, and while most encounters begin with a warning, when our officers see someone ignoring those warnings, there will be enforcement."

Over the last weekend, including through Monday of this week, New York City saw 31 shootings where people were struck by bullets.

One of those wounded was a 7-year-old girl, an unintended victim caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs.

"We know from experience, as the weather gets warmer, that 30% of all shooting incidents are preceded by multiple reports of other lawbreaking and violations leading up to that violence," Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPetri said. "Engaging in proactive enforcement can be the difference that prevents that next shooting, and prevents the next child from being harmed."

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NYPD tracking of quality-of-life condition complaints shows that in year-to-date comparisons since 2019, calls about groups drinking on the street have doubled to 3,193 from 1,452, and that calls about loud parties in public spaces increased to 9,013 compared to 3,338 in 2019.

In the same time period, 911 calls reporting people with knives in the city's transit system have increased by 139%, while reports of drug sales in the subway have increased by 71%.

"We have increased police presence and we have increased enforcement," Transit Bureau Chief Jason Wilcox said. "As a result, we have increased ridership. We are back to an average of 6.3 index crimes a day on a system carrying between three and four million people, but our enforcement efforts in partnership with the MTA will not slow down."

In the new initiative, the first wave of increased enforcement will be focused in areas experiencing the most shooting incidents: the Bronx and Brooklyn, specifically in the neighborhoods of Brownsville, East New York, and Cypress Hills.

Together, the 17 precincts that cover those two geographic areas account for almost half of the city's shootings.

"To be clear, this is not a return to Stop, Question, and Frisk, nor is it 'policing for numbers,'" Sewell said. "This enforcement will be responsive to community complaints and concerns, and will address the violent crime patterns officers and detectives are confronting. This is precision-policing aimed at reducing violence in the neighborhoods seeing disproportionate numbers of shootings, and it is what the public is demanding."

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