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Public Safety

The State Of the City's Crimefighting

Fresh off his decisive victory in November’s election, a victory made possible in part because of his record on public safety, Mayor Michael Bloomberg set out what he called “A Blueprint for New York City’s Future” in his State of the City address on January 26th.

To an outside observer, it may have seemed strange that, in addition to ambitious pronouncements about tackling poverty, creating new jobs, rebuilding the World Trade Center site, and reforming the Administration for Children’s Services in the wake of the killing of seven-year-old Nixzmary Brown, the mayor reserved a considerable portion of his speech to new crime-fighting proposals. Yet recent events have forced public safety issues back into the consciousness of New Yorkers.

New Public Safety Proposals

Of course, Bloomberg made sure to mention the continuing drop in crime numbers. Through December 18th (as of this writing, the date of the most recent numbers available online), the number of major crimes had dropped 12 percent over the same period in 2004. Furthermore, according to the mayor, crime has dropped by 20 percent since he was elected in 2001.

To Bloomberg’s credit, he made a number of concrete proposals to fight crime over the next year, a refreshing change from the lack of policy detail laid out during his campaign.

The mayor announced that the police department would expand Operation Trident, an initiative introduced last year that split up troublesome precincts and sent in additional police officers. Though the name may be lacking in originality (the Metropolitan Police Service in London began their own Operation Trident in 1998 to tackle gun violence), the policy itself seems to have been a success.

In East New York’s 75th Precinct, a Trident target in 2005, crime fell by 12 percent. While the incidence of homicide was unchanged over 2004, East New York saw large drops in rape (though, as the Village Voice pointed out,rape numbers are notoriously difficult to assess), robbery and burglary.

Following on the success of Operation Trident in the 75th Precinct, Bloomberg said that the initiative would be expanded to two precincts in the South Bronx—the 44th precinct and the 46th precinct.

Bloomberg also called upon the state legislature to pass a law requiring the collection of DNA samples in all criminal convictions. The mayor called the proposed law “the single best way to catch offenders before they become serial offenders, as well as to exonerate the innocent.” In light of the opposition such proposals have received in the past from civil liberties groups, who argue that extensive DNA collection is an invasion of privacy, passing such a law surely will not be easy, especially if Bloomberg insists on including convictions for misdemeanors. It also takes quite a faith in the “broken windows” theory to believe that your average turnstile jumper or shoplifter is likely to turn into a murderer or rapist. Add to that the sheer number of misdemeanors that flow through the city’s criminal justice system every year -- a report by the New York Criminal Justice Agency found more than 176,000 of them in 1998, and there is no reason to suggest that there are fewer today -—administering such a DNA collection system would take substantial resources.

Fighting Gun Violence –- Ideas New and Old

Bloomberg’s top public safety priority in the coming year, however, is fighting gun violence, and keeping illegal guns off the street. This should come as no surprise, as it has been the mayor’s focus since two police officers were killed at the end of 2005. In his State of the City speech, Bloomberg vowed to “marshal all of our resources and work with all of our partners in public service -- whether they are across the rotunda in City Hall, up in Albany, or in big cities across the nation -- both to root out and punish these criminals and to stop the flow of illegal guns into our city.”

The mayor outlined several proposals to achieve this goal, some old, and some new. One was filing new lawsuits against the dealers responsible for selling the guns that end up being used in crimes; experts suggest that about 60 percent of the guns used across the country to commit crimes come from just one percent of gun dealers. Another idea that had been suggested before was to work with elected officials across the country to toughen gun control laws and improve enforcement (“Mike gunnin’ for NRA” was the headline in the Daily News when the mayor first suggested such a plan, in an article that also wondered whether Bloomberg would use some of his own money to campaign against illegal guns.)

Among the new proposals was a commitment to debrief felony gun defendants after they are arrested (to gain intelligence on the illegal gun market), a plan to use new video technology to track the source of gun shots, and a collaborative effort to flag the cases of gun offenders when they are arrested for other crimes. Bloomberg also proposed two new pieces of legislation: a new registration program for individuals convicted of gun crimes -- a “Megan’s law for gun criminals” in the words of the mayor -- and a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years for anyone convicted of criminally possessing a loaded gun.

New Gun Laws Get Their First Test

It is hard to imagine that the members of the state legislature who passed the Crimes Against Police Law in December in the wake of two police shootings could have dreamed of a better poster boy for the law than 25-year old Damian Henry. Henry -- a “cop-hating thug” in the Post’s estimation -- has been charged under the new law with first degree attempted murder after firing an Uzi at two police officers outside an East Flatbush club that he was allegedly about to rob. Police also say that, in a coincidence Charles Dickens would be proud of, Henry was arrested last summer for firing at a correction officer with the same gun that was later used to shoot Officer Dillon Stewart.

Nixzmary’s Law?

The tragic death of Nixzmary Brown has had ramifications for the city’s child services system that will be felt for years. Now Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes wants life without parole for similar crimes. Nixzmary’s stepfather, the accused killer, is charged with second degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life. Bills have been introduced in both the state senate and assembly to change the law.

David Dean, a student at New York University School of Law, worked as a policy analyst in the Mayor's Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator. 

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