The explosion of shootings in New York City last year appears to have a significant correlation to quality-of-life calls in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, NYPD officials say.
The city recorded a nearly 100% increase in shootings in 2020, with 1,531 compared to 777 in 2019; the number of victims climbed from 924 the previous year to 1,868, NYPD figures show.
An analysis of the calls found that shootings often happened within six hours of calls to 311 operators about six major quality-of-life complaints: drinking in public, open drug activity, and loud noise in parks, commercial establishments like bodegas, residential areas and sidewalks, said Chief Michael LiPetri, head of NYPD crime control strategies.
The correlation is prompting the NYPD to intensify efforts in 2021 to engage community leaders and other stakeholders to help the department deal with quality-of-life issues in an effort to reduce violence, LiPetri said.
"At some point it needs to come to enforcement, and we need backing of many, many different agencies and leaders and stakeholders in the community," LiPetri said in an interview with Newsday.
The calls related to complaints about activity that took place within 500 feet of the eventual shooting, although it was unclear if the activities actually prompted the shootings, officials said.
Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, said the NYPD data indicated that a lack of quality-of-life enforcement may have a negative impact on the street. The data, which Aborn believed showed a "loose correlation" between 311 calls and shootings, nevertheless may help officials make better decisions on deploying resources, he said.
Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy, whose constituents live in some of the high shooting areas, said in a statement to Newsday that he was encouraged by the NYPD attempt to find new ways of dealing with the violence.
"But we need a wide range of resources, including from better support for block associations, mental health resources at schools, healthy food for families, and business opportunities for local entrepreneurs," Cornegy said.
Paul DiGiacomo, head of the Detectives' Endowment Association, said over the years the department has stepped back from quality-of-life enforcement. Any effort now to reengage may cause problems for officers who are reluctant to deal with low-level crimes out of fear of getting in trouble amid anti-police sentiment after the May 2020 death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, he said.
LiPetri and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea have attributed the increase in violence for 2020 to a combination of factors, including bail reform and the closing of the courts and grand juries brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. But quality-of-life complaints tied to shootings suggest that a deterioration of street conditions had been overlooked as a precursor to violence.
"We are telling them [elected leaders] there is basically hundreds of calls of quality of life on a block that has six or seven shootings," LiPetri said. "There is definitely a correlation."
In 2020, there were 1.27 million 311 calls to police, compared to 840,000 in 2019, a jump of 51.1%, LiPetri said. Some of that increase was attributed to complaints about social distancing, noted LiPetri. But when police drilled down deeper into the data, they identified 100 blocks that had multiple shootings and also were preceded by a total of 11,000 calls to 311 about the six most frequent complaints, LiPetri said.
Nearly 30% of the shootings in 2020 were preceded by 311 calls, compared to 24% in 2019, according to police data. The trend was evident during the peak summer violence months, LiPetri said.
"What we did see that was very alarming, in June and July we took over 115 shootings in June and 100 shootings in July preceded by quality-of-life calls," LiPetri said.