As the city is in the grips of the worst gun violence spike in decades, a former top cop with the NYPD said he's seen this all before — and fears NYC may be well on its way to returning to the days of high crime rates.
Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who led the department from 1994-1996 under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and again from 2014-2016 under Bill de Blasio, said that at its current rate the city has lost about 20 years of progress in battling crime, and is at risk of going even further back to a time when the five boroughs were not nearly as safe as they are today.
"We are back to the 2000 era, and I worry we may get back as far back as 1990. It’s a frightening set of circumstances," Bratton said. "The immediate future of NYC does not look good."
A look at recent crime numbers gives some credence to what Bratton said. Over the July 4th weekend, there were 44 shooting incidents and 63 total victims. In the same period in 2019, there were 16 incidents and 21 victims. Chief Rodney Harrison said that on July 5, there were 37 people shot within the first nine hours of the day, and at least three of those people died.
The weekend's bloodshed was far from an anomaly: The NYPD says there was significantly more gun violence and homicides in June compared to the same month in 2019. The week of June 29 in 2019, there were 33 shooting victims in the city; in the same week this year, there were 101 — and increase of more than 200 percent.
June 2020 had 39 homicides, nine more homicides last month than in June 2019. And shootings citywide more than doubled, going from 89 in 2019 to 205 this year, with increases in each one of the city's five boroughs. Likewise, the city saw more than twice as many burglaries this year.
Bratton warned against the return of other lesser offenses as well.
"Public urination, defecation, smoking marijuana, aggressive begging, graffiti, street prostitution is making a comeback. I described the city as a mess the other day and it is," Bratton said. "I was here in 1990 when it truly was a mess and I worry it is going back to those kinds of days."
Bratton said there is no one precise reason why crime rates would be going up, but rather a combination of different factors at play. While he said current Commissioner Dermot Shea's decision to do away with the anti-crime units may have some role in the surge, he also pointed to rising crime rates earlier in the year as a sign of trouble brewing, attributing some of the problems to bail reform laws passed in the state.
Those laws, which were intended to cut down on the number of people held on nonviolent crimes in jails because they couldn't afford to get out, have led to more people being allowed back on the street right after being arrested, Bratton said. He added that the surge in crimes came partly as a result of legislation being passed "in the middle of the night."
On a more local level, Bratton lashed out at the New York City Council for their pieces of legislation that many within in the department see as anti-cop. The $1 billion cut to the NYPD's budget (which some members of the Council demanded, as part of a nationwide call among Black Lives Matter protesters to defund police departments) served as a gut punch to policing efforts in the city.
“What the City Council just effectively did is like an etch-a-sketch moment: Do away with everything that was accomplished over the last four or five years," Bratton said. “I have never seen a time when there has been such a hostile City Council towards the police department in the city of New York.”
He also lamented what he said was a broken relationship between the city district attorneys and the police, as well as a court system "that is in significant disarray at the moment."
That echoed the complaints of one of the mayors he once served. Mayor de Blasio said on Monday that "there's not one cause" for the surge in violence, citing a confluence of events like the coronavirus, court closures, simmering tensions after months of confinement, a still-sputtering economy and more. "The court system is not functioning. When our police effectuate an arrest, they don't have the same follow through they're used to seeing from the court system."
While DAs and court officials dispute the claim that they are at all to blame for the rise in crime, Bratton said it goes all the way up to the state's attorney general, who he also called out for her criticisms of the NYPD's handling of protesters during the Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations in late May and June.
"The attorney general comes out with a report I would call a political hit job – she looks at the police performance, did anyone think to take a look to see what the demonstrators were up to? What the police are responding to? A very one-sided hit job coming out of Albany. No wonder the cops are dispirited," Bratton said.
The segment of the city's population that has been primarily impacted by the rise in violence has been the minority communities. Earlier in the week, the NYPD said that all of the gun violence victims in July have been from minority communities, as were 97 percent of June's shooting victims.
Bratton put the onus on communities to help the police find whomever is responsible for the recent violence.
"This is an issue that the community itself is going to have to face up to when they accuse the police department of racial profiling, disproportionate impact," Bratton said. “Police have to go where the crime is and it has been an unfortunate face in this city, in this country for decades if not for centuries, that crime falls disproportionately on the poor, on minorities."
The former top cop did say there were some good things to come out of the police reform measures. Foremost among them was taking tasks away from the NYPD that the department never wanted or was designed to be tasked with, saying officers "would be happy" not to have them on their plate anymore. Namely, Bratton said working with homeless, the mentally ill, or those who are addicted to drugs should fall under another authority, but was always left for police.
"For 30 or 40 years, in this city in particular, when something is not working — dump it on the NYPD. They’ll take it. They’ll fix it," Bratton said. "And in poor neighborhoods…they end up taking the blame for what doesn’t go right. And so much of what doesn’t go right is the rest of city government’s failure to fix things.”
Bratton said he was worried about how many of these problems, and more, would be addressed given the much smaller budget the city is operating on now due to the coronavirus pandemic taking away billions in expected tax revenue.
"Pretty easy governing when you have a limitless budget," Bratton said. "But when you don’t – the times get tough."