NYC Murder Uptick Leaves Many on Edge, But Locals There in the '90s Say Issues Plaguing City Are Nationwide

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With two months left in 2020, murders in New York City have already eclipsed last year's numbers, according to NYPD data. In spite of this, crime has continued to fall over the last two decades in the city that deems itself the safest metropolis in the US

NYPD data regarding the number of homicide victims killed by gunfire this year as compared to last has left many concerned. But comparing one year to the previous, specifically in New York City, ignores the issues with which the entire country is grappling, those who live in the area told Inside Edition Digital.

With two months left in 2020, murders in New York City have already eclipsed last year's numbers, according to NYPD data. In spite of this, crime has continued to fall over the last two decades in the city that deems itself the safest metropolis in the country.

However, it is worth noting that guns are driving murders in New York City more than they have in ten years, the NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies told Inside Edition Digital in an interview. In the first nine months of the year, murder went up 40% this year compared to last.

About 68% of homicide victims were killed by gunfire this year –– compared to 53% last year, according to NYPD data. And about 11 out of the total 77 precincts in the city make up nearly 45% of all shootings in the city.

"We are at the highest levels we've seen in ten years," Chief Michael LiPetri said in regards to murders due to firearms. "It really started to skyrocket around June 1," Lepetri said, naming several regions of the city with particularly high crime frequency, including southern and northern Brooklyn, southeast Queens and parts of the Bronx.

For the entire month of June, there were 205 shooting incidents across the city, compared to 89 last year — a 130% increase, according to the NYPD. A recorded 39 people were murdered in the same month compared to 30 last year — a 30% increase for the month. 

Most recently, in October, Ethan Williams, a 20-year-old college student visiting from Indiana, became the unintended fatal target in a shooting in Bushwick. Williams' death was one of 12 shootings that night, two of which were fatal, the New York Post reported.

LiPetri would not comment on the incident since the case is an open investigation.

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Asked what might be contributing to the exceptionally high numbers, LiPetri mentioned a few factors.

One, he said, is there has been a 60% cut in the overtime budget which he says has had "a small effect" on overall crime rates. Recently, the NYPD had $1 billion cut from its budget in an effort to redistribute funds to youth programs and social services.

The NYPD has also cut down its department by roughly 2,500 officers from this time last year and was forced to cancel a class of 1,163 recruits due to deep budget cuts. Concurrently, there has been a rise in retirements within the department.

LiPetri also said loosened bail reform laws, which were implemented Jan. 1, were linked to the spike in crime. Through June 26, the department has made an additional 750 major felony arrests of previously incarcerated individuals who are no longer eligible for bail, compared to the number of those who were released in the same period last year. Detractors of such bail reform initiatives have noted those individuals arrested would not have been on the streets had those bail reforms not gone through. 

Even with what has been described as a waning police presence in the streets, the department made more firearm arrests — a tallied 607 — in the month of September than it did in any previous September dating back to 1994, according to the NYPD. Compared to last year, gun arrests are up 7% citywide. September saw a 98% jump. In the month of August, the department made two more gun arrests than it did last year.

Overall, major crime is down 1.1% this year compared to last, but murders and burglaries are up.

In all, New York City has seen 390 murders so far compared to 282 this time last year — a 38.3% increase.

In October there were 34 murders compared to 28 last year, data shows.

Burglaries are up 428% increase compared to last year — with a total of 12,708 burglaries so far compared to 8,985 this time last year, according to data. Shooting victims are up 101.3% with 1,602 victims this year compared to 796 this time last year, data shows.

But comparing one year to the other doesn't paint the full picture when it comes to the significant progress New York City has made over the years when it comes to safety. With the exception of the rise in 2020, the trajectory of crime in the city continues to descend to the lowest numbers that the city has seen in 28 years. 

Brooklyn-Born and -Raised Politician Says What's at Play in New York Is a Nationwide Occurrence 

"The saying that we are back to the worse times is just not true," Jumaane Williams, the NYC Public Advocate, said in an interview with Inside Edition Digital. "People forget where we were ... The saying that we are back to the worse times, is just not true.”

In the 1990s, the city saw as many as 5,000 shootings and 2,000 murders in a year, The New York Times reported.

“I was around in the '90s," Williams said. "I graduated high school in 1994 and I remember classmates who are no longer here because they were shot and killed -- we’re not there and we don’t want to go back there.”

At the turn of the century, murder plunged nearly 75% in New York City, according to reports. Crime rates remained steady — though still declining — for the first decade, and then in 2012, there was an uptick in homicides with about 419 murders, NYPD data shows.

If this year's upward trend continues, 2020 is on the path to surpassing murder rates in the city from eight years ago.

"We are closer to 2012 numbers right now," Williams said. "I do think we can significantly reduce gun violence, but we need leaders who have the courage to have this conversation. What we need to do is get some adults in the room and have a conversation about this. I am a life-long New Yorker, my family is here, my mother, my sister, my cousin, my friends, I want everyone to be safe.

"We have to put in context that this is happening across the country," he continued. "We are seeing the spike across the nation; the question is what is causing this number to increase?"

Williams is hesitant to point fingers at bail reform law leading to more parolees out on the streets. The recidivism rate, he says, is extremely small.

In fact, of the 528 shootings logged in the city through June 30 –– only one person released under statewide bail reform was charged with shooting, according to a breakdown provided to the New York Post by the NYPD.

The department told the outlet that only nine people – or 0.3% – of the 2,500 Rikers Island inmates released amid the pandemic, were linked to shootings. A recorded 275 of that total number had been rearrested on other offenses.

Instead, Williams attributes the pandemic to the rise in crime.

"What we saw was a world-wide pandemic where the problems only got worse. People were locked in their homes for months, people saw their communities ravished, lose their lives, lose jobs." 

Rebecca Fischer, the Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence — a non-profit organization that was conceived in 1993 — is also cautious about blaming parolees for the rise in gun violence. She, instead, says that people ages 16-24 have been the most vulnerable to gun violence, especially at the height of the pandemic when summer youth programs were put on pause resorting to a spike of young people on the streets.

But Fischer says that New York City is one of the safest in terms of gun violence because it has some of the toughest gun prevention laws and comprehensive background checks. Even so, the flow of guns must be "controlled."

"We still need to do more to provide support for communities targeted by illegal guns," she said.

Both agree that while illegal guns continue to pour into the cities, the city needs more resources. More policing, they argue, is not the solution.

"There are solutions that have been proven to work and they are not heavily focused on an increase in policing," Fischer said. "These solutions are not a mystery."