The Smart Path to a Safer Brooklyn

Eric Gonzalez

March 16, 2023

2022 saw progress; 2023 should see more.

2022 saw progress; 2023 should see more.

In December, Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD shared encouraging news about gun crimes in New York City: Shootings and homicides declined by double digits from 2021 — and those declines have continued during the first two months of 2023. The past year has been touted as the beginning of the city’s rebound from the debilitating pandemic — not just in terms of health and public safety, but also in retail, tourism, a return to public transit and much more.

Over the past two years, New York City recorded 35 fewer murders. Over that timeframe, there were 35 fewer murders in Brooklyn.

A closer look at the recovery from the spike in gun violence we saw in 2020, especially during the summer when civil unrest and COVID-19 shutdowns created a crisis, makes another fact clear: When we’re talking about the city’s gains in safety, we are talking about Brooklyn. 

Over the past two years, New York City recorded 35 fewer murders. Over that timeframe, there were 35 fewer murders in Brooklyn. Similarly, Brooklyn accounts for 85% of the 238 fewer shooting incidents in all five boroughs between 2020 and 2022 and 87% of the 303 fewer shooting victims. 

It is, therefore, instructive to look at the crime reduction strategies that my office has adopted and at our plans for the future as we pledge to continue the progress toward safer and healthier communities. 

Our multi-pronged strategy to reduce gun violence can be divided into two main components: law enforcement actions and community partnerships. 

To strengthen enforcement, we invested $6 million last year to boost our analytics, investigative and technological capacity to stop violence, hold accountable those who commit crimes, and exonerate the innocent through a new state-of-the-art Digital Evidence Lab. I also created a new executive-level position focusing on gun violence reduction and established a Ghost Gun Unit to address the growing threat of self-made, unregulated and untraceable weapons. 

As we have in the past, we continued to work closely with the NYPD on targeting the drivers of crime — the relatively small number of individuals who are responsible for the majority of gun crimes. We indicted gang members, investigated firearm traffickers and effectively prosecuted possession cases. 

Historically and presently, much of the gun violence in Brooklyn is concentrated in a handful of precincts that are located in some of the same low-income neighborhood that suffered the most during COVID. Focusing on those areas is critical and incapacitating street crews that terrorize those communities has made a measurable impact for residents. 

But it takes more than law enforcement responses to reduce the number of guns in our streets, to prevent violence before it occurs and to address the trauma that often leads to criminal justice involvement, particularly among our youth. 

Focusing on young people is the most crucial piece of preventing future violence.

This type of investment is precisely what we need to respond to the complicated array of issues that lead to violence, and I am committed to continue these partnerships and broaden our outreach to other community-based groups, especially those which engage with our young people. 

Over the last year, together with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the city’s Department of Education, my office hosted a number of educational sessions with students and young leaders. Participants discussed what would allow them to feel safe in their neighborhoods and developed tools to help them lead their peers toward positive choices. 

Focusing on young people is the most crucial piece of preventing future violence. Tragically, gun injuries are now the leading cause of death among people under age 24 in America, overtaking motor vehicle crashes a few years ago. In Brooklyn and throughout the city, there has been an alarming increase in perpetrators and victims of gun violence who are under 18 years of age. 

We know from national studies and from our work with local youth that trauma, illiteracy and learning disorders put children at higher risk of future criminal conduct. We also know that it’s critical to address the mental health needs of our most vulnerable youth if we are to reduce crime. Data from the 2021 Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES) indicate that 37.1% of U.S. high school students reported poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 19.9% considering and 9% attempting suicide in the preceding year. Yet the number of counselors in our schools has declined. 

According to another study, nearly three-quarters of high school students under the age of 18 in the U.S. experienced one or more traumatic incidents during the COVID pandemic, such as neglect, experiencing or witnessing violence, or having a family member attempt or die by suicide. Many of our young people are still suffering from the effects of these traumatic experiences and giving them the support they need at this crucial time must be an essential piece of our efforts to drive down violence.

That is why I have called for legislation to add enhanced mental health and gun safety education to the state-mandated health curriculum, to empower students and educators to identify classmates in crisis, to assist them getting the help they need, and to teach them to protect themselves and their families from the dangers of firearms. 

I am well aware that other major crime categories, like robberies and burglaries, spiked in the city last year (encouragingly, major crimes declined in Brooklyn by about 3% so far this year). One possible reason is the good news noted above — the return to full economic activity. To address this concerning trend, my office is employing a similar strategy to the one we have taken to combat gun crimes: watching for hotspots, identifying repeat offenders and coordinating responses with the NYPD. I also believe that continuing to meet defendants and victims where they are by offering individualized dispositions, including restorative justice, referrals to mental health services and assistance with drug misuse, will reduce recidivism in the long term.

Ascribing causes to any increases or declines in crime is notoriously difficult and it would be presumptuous of me to take full credit for the reductions I described at the beginning of this article. But this much I know: With the exception of the unprecedented year that was 2020, shootings and homicides in Brooklyn have trended downward year after year for nearly a decade now. 

This long track record gives me confidence that the strategies we have employed in our borough are working. 

I am optimistic that our city will continue its recovery in 2023. We still face many challenges, with most major crime categories on the rise and with incidents of gun violence still higher than we want them to be. But we know what interventions work. We know who requires our laser-focused attention. We know what type of investments make a difference.