Updated: 5:41 pm, Mon Jun 8, 2015.


Rise in Homicides and Shootings Gives Top NYPD Chief Cause for Concern


May Boost Stop-and-Frisks in Response


“We’re struggling with homicides and shootings. As we expect when warm weather comes, we see an increase in certain crimes.”

Chief of Department James P. O’Neill sounded that note of alarm at a press conference June 1, the strongest words to date from the NYPD about the rise in gun-related crimes this year.

Hurt by Anti-Police Mood?

Chief O’Neill outlined a number of initiatives aimed at getting the numbers under control. But Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, said in an interview that officers are hampered by the anti-police mood in the city and the nation.

“O’Neill is just doing his best—we couldn’t have a better Chief of Department—but this is beyond the Police Department,” he said. “This is where the public needs to step in...The City Council needs to back off...It’s like us getting on a flight and telling the pilot how to fly the plane.”

Police Commissioner William Bratton, who was on vacation in Italy last week, has minimized crime increases, saying they are restricted to a handful of precincts. “It’s career criminals killing and shooting other career criminals,” he said of a spike in shootings a month ago.

Mayor de Blasio, when he talks about police, emphasizes what he calls vastly improved relations between police and community following the de-emphasis on stop-and frisk. Like Mr. Bratton, he says that better equipment and tactics will help officers fight rising crime—a position he adhered to last week in repeating his opposition to adding 1,000 officers to the NYPD.

‘Don’t Take This Lightly’

But Chief O’Neill did not mince words. “We do not take this lightly,” he said of the rising numbers of homicides and shootings.

He outlined steps the NYPD is taking to combat gun violence. The Summer All Out program, in which 330 desk-bound officers are transferred to patrol duties until fall, was scheduled to start June 8, a month earlier than usual. Other officers will work overtime shifts on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays aimed at reducing violence in the 15-most-troubled precincts.

Chief O’Neill even suggested that stop-and-frisks might increase. The tactic was aggressively employed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with the number of stops rising from 97,000 in 2002 to 685,000 in 2011.

The number began to decline in 2012 amid rising complaints from the public and City Council members that prompted then-Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to issue an order that March that cops should focus on “quality stops” rather than quantity. A Federal Judge ruled in 2013 that the program was unconstitutional because people were being stopped for demographic factors rather than because they appeared to be involved in a crime, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court. The number of stops in 2014 was 46,000.

‘We Want Good Stops’

“If we see an area where there is an increase in violence, of course we’re going to put more resources in there,” Chief O’Neill said. “But the stops that we want are good stops.”

Mr. Mullins found that difficult to credit. The court decision and the Community Safety Act, which was passed in 2013 over Mr. Bloomberg’s veto and makes officers personally liable for demographic profiling, “send a message to the criminal element, which now knows that their chances of getting stopped are at a minimum,” he said.

Residents of the Soundview section of The Bronx “tell me to bring back stop-and-frisk,” he said. “‘My wife’s car had bullet holes when I went to work yesterday morning.’”

“We don’t need another Brian Watkins case,” said Mr. Mullins, referring to the highly-publicized 1990 murder of a 22-year-old Utah tourist defending his mother against muggers in a Midtown subway station. He said a similar incident could occur by the end of summer. “They’ll be saying, ‘Mullins was right again.’”

Gun Crime Bucks Trend

When Mr. de Blasio took office in January 2014, his critics anticipated a sharp rise in crime, harking back to the years of more than 2,000 homicides in the early 1990s. They attacked him particularly for his opposition to stop-and-frisk. However, crime continued to drop, and the figures for 2014 set record lows. But this year, violent crime has been rising.

The NYPD emphasized that while gun crimes are up, total serious felonies are down. A slide presentation compared crime figures from 1993 through 2015 for the first five months of each year.

Murders for that period rose from 113 in 2014 to 135 in 2015, a 19-percent increase. Shooting incidents went from 403 to 439, a 9-percent increase. Meanwhile, felony crimes dropped from 41,467 to 38,752, a decrease of 7 percent.

Another slide contrasted “the old normal,” an average of 1,489 shootings per year between 2003 and 2012, and “the new normal,” an average of 1,138 shootings per year in 2013 and 2014. That’s a 24-percent drop.

Firm Against Adding Cops

Speaking to reporters after the NYPD press conference, Mr. de Blasio said he would continue to resist pressure from the City Council and Mr. Bratton to increase the size of the uniformed force, now 34,500, by 1,000 or so cops.

With the aid of technology, he said, officers can work smarter. “We have more technology at the disposal of our officers today than we did a year ago,” he said. “We have ShotSpotter now online in some key precincts. We have now coming online the smartphones and the tablets in the vehicles...We have better training then we had a year ago.

“We have...improved [the] relationship between police and community...We have time and energy that’s been freed up by getting away from the inappropriate stops and getting away from low-level marijuana arrests, and putting that time and energy into going after violent crime.”

‘Turned It Quick in ’14’

The Mayor said he was concerned but not disturbed by the rise in gun-related crime. “If you recall last year, we were at a point just around this time of year—at the end of the spring, beginning of summer—where we saw an uptick in crime,” he said. “There was tremendous concern in communities around the city, rightfully. And then you saw as a result of Summer All Out, and other initiatives, we turned those numbers very quickly and intensely, so that by the end of 2014, we had had the safest year in decades.”

He even picked up a theme often voiced by his predecessor, Mr. Bloomberg: “New York City continues to be an extraordinarily safe city

—the safest big city in America, that is clear.”

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch disagreed with Mr. de Blasio. “There are not enough police officers on patrol, so management has to steal from one area of policing to shore up another,” he said in a statement. “There are also multiple levels of intense oversight and constant second-guessing of officers enforcing the law that is counterproductive. We need thousands more police officers and they need to have the backing and support of management and the city.”

Where Bratton Wants Cops

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has said the city needs more cops to reduce overtime and improve community policing. Mr. Bratton has said he needs additional officers for certain initiatives, including counterterrorism; he wants a dedicated force for patrols and demonstrations rather than having to borrow officers from precincts. Negotiations are ongoing and the budget will be completed by the end of the month.

Mr. Lynch and Mr. Mullins have criticized the City Council for bills they say are aimed at micromanaging the Police Department, including one, now stalled, that would outlaw the use of chokeholds, which are already prohibited by NYPD policy.