Shootings and murders soared last month in New York City, which police brass are attributing to criminal-justice reforms including the ending of cash bail, restrictions on police physicality during arrests, release of prisoners from Rikers Island during the coronavirus pandemic and overall anti-police sentiment across the city.
There were 205 shootings across the city in June 2020, a 130% increase from the 89 that occurred in the same month last year, and murders rose from 30 to 39, for a 30% spike.
The trend continued in the first five days of July, which saw 56 shootings totaling 80 victims, compared to 19 shootings and 24 victims in the same period of 2019. Twenty people were murdered from July 1-5, 2020, compared with eight in the year-ago period.
July 5 was a particularly bloody day this year, with 30 shooting incidents totaling 48 victims; and 10 homicides.
Overall, from January 1 through June 30, 2020, there were 181 murders and 528 shootings, sharp increases from 147 and 362, respectively, in the first six months of 2019.
Burglaries also soared last month, rising 118.2%, in a period that saw vast numbers of store break-ins and looting during Black Lives Matter protests. Auto theft saw a major spike as well, rising 50.6% from the same month last year. But a decrease in several categories, including grand larceny (down 38.1%) and robbery (down 17.8%) resulted in an overall 5.5% drop in total crimes in the seven major index categories.
At a press conference Monday announcing the latest crime statistics, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPetri said a rash of reforms, a closure of the criminal-justice system and release of many prisoners during the pandemic, and anti-police sentiment have led to increases in crime and low morale among police officers.
The brass noted that 2,500 prisoners were released from Rikers Island due to the COVID pandemic, 96% of whose releases had been opposed by the NYPD. Of those released, 275 have since been re-arrested for new crimes a total of 550 times. Furthermore, they say, the closure of courts during the pandemic as well as the elimination of cash bail for most offenses mean accused criminals are walking the streets awaiting eventual criminal proceedings.
“If these tremendous challenges were not enough,” said Monahan, “New York City had days and days of anti-police marches that honestly crushed the morale of our cops, and it created a large sense of animosity towards the police. And I’m not speaking about the peaceful protests that took place. The anti-police rhetoric led [Police] Commissioner [Dermot] Shea to make a difficult decision to disband our [plainclothes] anti-crime teams, with our officers’ well-being in mind.”
Monahan criticized the “diaphragm bill,” a portion of the recent law banning chokeholds which prohibits officers from sitting or kneeling on a suspect’s back or stomach during an arrest.
“Now, as officers try to fight crime,” said Monahan, “they must take pause before making an arrest, due to the insanity of the diaphragm bill passed by the City Council, as it criminalizes cops who put their knee on someone’s back while they are struggling for their life with an individual who is violent and resisting arrest.”
While Monahan said he does not oppose the anti-chokehold portion of the bill, noting that restricting a suspect’s airway has been banned for years, he called out Councilman Rory Lancman of Queens, author of the bill, for the diaphragm portion of the law.
“Rory Lancman, who is in one of the safest and affluent neighborhoods in the city, has [authored] a bill that is going to affect people in economically deprived areas of the city, and have violence, because police officers may be hesitant to step forward and grab someone for a quality-of-life offense, if during the course of that the person resists, and their knee should accidentally end up on that person’s back.”
But in a conversation with Hamodia, Lancman shot back at Monahan, saying the chief had mischaracterized his district and that the reforms in his bill are appropriate.
“My district is three-quarters non-white, and I’m happy to invite Chief Monahan to come out to the 24th council district and talk to communities of color about how urgently they desire reform of the police department and the criminal-justice system,” Lancman said. “I would also be happy to acquaint him with the NYPD patrol guide, which also urges officers not to sit, kneel or stand on a suspect’s back or chest.”
“We have seen countless videos where many of Chief Monahan’s officers are restraining a suspect with their arms being held, their legs being held, and an officer kneeling or sitting on the suspect’s back gratuitously,” Lancman continued. “For six years the NYPD brass has vociferously opposed the chokehold part of the bill, so this is about them doing anything they can to be able to continue to get away with committing chokeholds and other improper restraints with impunity.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who discussed the crime increase at his own press briefing Monday, at which Monahan also participated, said he believes “the most central issue” leading to the crime spike “is the fact that the court system is not functioning, that when our police effectuate an arrest, they don’t have the same follow through they’re used to seeing from the court system.” De Blasio deflected reporters’ questions about whether he disagrees with police leadership over the criminal-justice reforms, stating that “we, all of us together, have been keeping the city safe now for seven years,” and that the city was suffering from what may be “may be the single worst combination of crises New York City has ever faced.”
“It’s impossible to say which factor achieves which outcome,” said the mayor. “Everything together is having a really big impact, and we’re all working together to see our way through it.”
In a written statement, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who made several media appearances Monday but did not join either press conference, said, “The sharp increase in shootings and violence in New York puts innocent people at risk and tears at the fabric of life in our city. The challenges are great for an NYPD facing the strain of deep budget cuts, changes to the criminal justice system that are impacting the courts and the continuing international health pandemic. But through it all, I have seen our hardworking men and women display an unwavering commitment to the kind of fair and effective policing that defines our agency and that New Yorkers expect and deserve.”