Lost in the “stop and frisk” debate and the recent increase in crime in the city is the glaring fact that gangs have made a comeback in New York and they are responsible for the recent rash of shootings in playgrounds and basketball courts around the city.
New York is at risk of becoming a gang-war town like Los Angeles was a decade ago and Chicago has become in the past two years. Gang violence in those cites has reversed two decades worth of decreasing crime and it’s starting to happen here in our backyard.
Take Brownsville, Brooklyn, the subject of a recent investigation in the New York Daily News, where guns and crime are now crippling that neighborhood. Kids are getting shot on the basketball court and a 2-year-old girl was recently wounded in a drive-by shooting. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is right that we must get guns off our streets, but he and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are not focusing on the gang culture and policing techniques that were once effective in New York and elsewhere to combat them.
When Bill Bratton became New York City’s police commissioner in 1994, along with his successful Compstat neighborhood analysis program, he put a special anti-gang unit in each precinct around the city. These SNEU (Street Narcotics Enforcement Units) were incredibly effective in becoming specialists in gang policing and were an important part of the NYPD’s record-breaking decrease in crime in New York in the 1990s.
Bratton later took his impressive policing skills to LA in 2002, a large city where the Crips and Bloods and other street gangs were creating havoc and fueled the increase in gun shootings in that city.
Once again, Bratton worked with minority communities to combat the gang problem. In the wake of the Rodney King incident, Bratton was able to repair relations with LA’s minority communities and made them the LAPD’s partner in waging a war on gangs. When he left LA in 2009, seven years after he took the helm, gang violence was way down, minority relations with the LAPD were strong and, once again, Bratton left a city much better than he found it, as he did in New York in the 1990s and in Boston in the 1980s.
We must start to have a public discussion about New York’s increasing gang activity. We cannot ignore that cutting back youth after-school programs, gutting funding for neighborhood recreation centers and allowing youth unemployment in minority communities to run as high as 50 percent is a large part of the problem.
Proper policing is only one part of the solution. We must bring jobs and job training centers to neighborhoods like Brownsville and Harlem. We need to properly fund after-school programs in Crown Heights and Jamaica. We need to expand athletic and academic weekend programs at neighborhood community and recreation centers in places like Corona and Co-Op City.
Gang violence will escalate if we don’t attack these social issues directly. And, in the meantime, we need the NYPD to be vigilant to protect our kids and our neighborhoods from gang violence.
Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly: gun control is extremely important. But gang control and jobs for minority youths is a much faster route to saving our neighborhoods and keeping our citizens safe.
Tom Allon is a candidate for mayor of New York City in 2013.