After months of precipitous declines in shootings, gunfire on the streets of New York has increased in recent months at a time when stop-and-frisk activity has dropped sharply, NYPD records show.
While overall shootings in 2013 still remain down 20.5 percent over last year, the sharp declines seen earlier have disappeared, with recent months showing spikes in shootings by as much as 11 percent, according to the data. Although all murders are down to historic lows, police have seen that decline moderate from a high of 33 percent earlier in the year to the current level of 20 percent.
The monthly increase in shootings over some of the same periods in 2012 is an indicator being watched by criminologists and police to see if some street crime decline is bottoming out or is being impacted by a huge drop in stop-and-frisk actions by officers.
But an NYPD official, while acknowledging that shootings have spiked in recent months compared to last year, said the comparison is being impacted because the first half of 2012 had an unusually large number of shootings, prompting the department go after street gangs.
"Last year the NYPD launched Operation Crew Cut to target violence between crews, and the result has been a dramatic drop in shootings. Shootings dropped during the second half of 2012 and hit a record low," spokesman John McCarthy said.
The decrease in shootings that occurred in the second half of 2012 was statistically a tough act to follow in the same period of 2013, a law enforcement official said. NYPD data appears to bear that out. Shootings are down 20.5 percent overall in 2013, with big drops of 40 percent to 37 percent occurring in July and June, respectively, over the same months in 2012. But by August, the number of shootings began to go the other way compared to August 2012, with an increase from 121 to 131, or just over 8 percent. In September, shootings increased from 88 to 98, or 11.3 percent. October saw a small increase of 1 percent in shootings, November a slight drop of 3.7 percent.
Franklin Zimring, a professor at Berkeley Law in California, said the size and duration of the changes in the number of shootings in New York have to be watched.
"There could be random fluctuations," Zimring said. "You have to imagine it is like baseball statistics," said Zimring, who has studied New York City crime trends. If a hot hitter suddenly strikes out three times, what he then does in his next 10 at bats becomes important, he said.
Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective who is now a law enforcement instructor and consultant, said he believed that police are not being as proactive on the street.
"After getting beat up in the press between stop and frisks and Muslims, the threat of having a federal monitor, the threat of getting sued personally -- I think cops have taken a hands-off approach," Giacalone said.
However, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, when recently asked about the commitment of police officers in the face of controversy over stop and frisk and the potential of lawsuits, said he didn't believe cops were pulling back.
"It has been my experience that police officers will always do their duty and respond to a situation," Kelly said.
But Kelly has acknowledged that police may be reluctant to carry out stop and frisks, which the latest NYPD data showed dropped 80 percent in the third quarter of this year compared with 2012.