By Eric Adams
New York Daily News | August 01, 2019
I started my law enforcement career as a New York City transit police officer. I believed then, and I still believe now, that the more people who are actively engaged in the work of policing, the safer a community will be. Police officers can’t be everywhere. But with the help of civilians, they can have eyes in several places at once.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the prevailing attitude in law enforcement. As a rookie cop, I remember hearing the sergeant I reported to say, “If you see those Guardian Angels out there, lock them up for the slightest misstep. And at a minimum, toss them off the transit system.” I learned the disdain was not only for Curtis Sliwa’s group of crime-fighters, but for just about all types of community patrols.
I felt that scorn first-hand when I helped organize a group of religious leaders to fight the crack epidemic in the early 1990s. Many of the volunteers were harassed, and some were even arrested, by the police. As much as law enforcement pays lip-service to how much they want to work with the community, their general attitude is that people should leave the crime-fighting to the professionals.
This outdated mindset is responsible in part for the twin crises of gang activity and gun violence in certain parts of the city. Although the NYPD’s model of broken windows policing, in combination with CompStat, has to led an unprecedented decrease in crime, it has failed to address some persistent underlying issues contributing to this recent increase in violence.
We saw that failure up close on Saturday night in Brownsville, when one person was killed and 11 were injured in a horrific mass shooting.
The solution is right in front of us. The City’s Crisis Management System (CMS) recruits community members who are deemed credible messengers to be “violence interrupters,” helping to deescalate street conflict and turn high-risk individuals away from violence.
Yet for too long, there has been an unwillingness on the part of the city to acknowledge, properly fund and coordinate with the teams that carry out this vital mission.
Take the Cure Violence program, a core part of CMS. It has proven to be effective in combating gun violence by treating shootings as a public-health issue that can be contained, just like the outbreak of a disease. According to a study from John Jay College, after Cure Violence was implemented in East New York in 2010, the neighborhood saw a 50% drop in gun injuries.
More impressively, the study found that young men in areas covered by the program reported that they were less likely to use violence as a way of settling disputes. Yet Cure Violence has been chronically underfunded, reducing its effectiveness.
A recent story illustrated the human cost of this institutional neglect. It featured Davion Powell, a promising young man from Crown Heights who joined Save Our Streets Crown Heights, a Cure Violence organization. As the program fell victim to a lack of resources and attention, struggling to retain staff and volunteers, Powell fell through the cracks. He was murdered in April of this year in a gang dispute.
Ideally, CMS teams should be on the ground in every hot spot in the city. These are areas that have been sites of frequent gang activity and gun violence. Right now, coverage is sparse, not reaching some communities with the greatest needs. The 73rd Precinct — where the Brownsville shooting occurred — only has one hot spot covered by violence interrupters.
Currently, the budget for the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, which helps coordinate this programming, is $36 million. We should double that. That would help provide groups with the necessary resources to address the surge in gang activity and turn the tide on gun violence.
In the long run, there need to be better lines of communication between local precincts and anti-violence community groups to help further the collective goal of safer communities.
Our current city policing strategies have gotten us this far. Going further requires thinking outside the box. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see more bodies in pine boxes.
Adams is Brooklyn borough president.