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“Four more murders in one night,” the New York Post wrote under the grieving of the loved ones of a shooting victim, and the “Subway Crime Soars,” by The Daily News, these tabloid headings remind of the darker and scarier time in New York history.
In reality, the uptick of the violence is small, but even the perception that New York is suffering any sort of backslide into the violence plagued bad old days of the 1970s has empowered critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio has assured public that overall crime is down and measures are put in place to combat the violence, much as the city stopped the pre-summer uptick a year ago.
Yet the mayor faced critics that he’s soft on crime and some experts warn that belief could endanger some of the criminal justice reforms he has promised.
Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University said, “Sometimes reality does not matter, if voters think they are less safe in 2015, in 2016 and especially 2017, the mayor has lost. He’s lost everything: lost his agenda, lost his job.”
It is undeniable that 2015 has been bloodier in New York.
This has given plenty of ammunition to de Blasio’s critics, many of whom have been eager to blast the mayors policy shifts they feel have left the city less safe.
The soft on crime label has dogged de Blasio since his 2013 mayor run, his rival Joe Lhota’s most effective ad of the campaign charged that de Blasio would meet with a rampaging motorcycle gang — and in particular his opponents have blamed the violence on the mayor’s decision to enforce a federal judge’s demand that the city curb the use of stop-and-frisk.
The tactic that the judge ruled discrimination against minorities allowed police to stop anyone deemed suspicious. Its supporters believe that it has acted as deterrent against criminals carrying guns.
A community activists toted a coffin to the City Hall to call for more aggressive policing, and Ed Mullins, head of one of the police unions who have a frosty relationship with the mayor said, de Blasio’s policies have handcuffed the police.
He said, “What you’re seeing now are the perps carrying their guns because they’re not afraid to carry them. We are sitting back, taking a less proactive approach.”
Mayoral aides, keenly aware of how damaging a legit crime spike would be to de Blasio, are taking great care to show that the administration is combating the uptick in violence.
Though not downplaying its seriousness, police officials have taken pains to note that much of the violence has been gang member on gang member and that the jump of shootings are largely been contained to high crime neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
The mayor in a press conference said that NYPD was about to embark on a program called summer all out, a surge of police officers into high crime areas.
De Blasio staffers also pushed back against the media coverage of crime in the subway system — which sees more than 5 million rides a day and averages less than 7 crimes daily — and the impact of the reduction of stop-and-frisk. Use of the tactic began declining in 2012, before de Blasio took office, and has fallen every year since. Officials point out that murders have also continued to fall, including to a record low of 333 in 2014.
But there is fear at City Hall that it is losing control of the crime narrative. The topic dominated the mayor’s high-profile interviews last week on WNYC public radio and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
De Blasio said “We do have a shooting problem. A shooting problem last year, and a shooting problem this year. Nothing like New York City had fifteen, twenty years ago. But something’s persistent, particularly around gangs. And we have new strategies to go in there.”
Any mayor worries at the approach of summer, when crime usually increases. But experts believe this mayor in particular — a liberal reformer following 20 years of crime reduction — could pay the price if violence surges.
Greer said, “This is a mayor who says he’s going to change the culture of crime and policing. There only has to be a perception that it’s not working. If newspapers go ‘Crime, crime, crime,’ people will think that.”