New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea talks at One...

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea talks at One Police Plaza in Manhattan in October. On Wednesday, Shea said shootings and firearms arrests are continuing a spike in 2021 that began last year. Credit: Corey Sipkin

In the first three weeks of 2021 the NYPD has seen a 75% increase in gun arrests over the same period in 2020, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday, as department data also showed that a spike in shootings this year continues 2020's upward trend.

The rise in arrests is an "alarm bell" that has been ringing for six months at least, ever since the city witnessed an enormous rise in shootings and homicides, Shea said during his annual State of The NYPD address to the New York City Police Foundation.

"The fact that we are making this many gun arrests is a problem," the commissioner said.

The latest NYPD data showed that shootings were already up nearly 17% in 2021, compared with the same period in 2020, when shootings rose for the entire year by about 100% from 2019. Shootings in 2020 rapidly increased in May and June. By the end of the year, shootings had soared to more than 1,500, with 1,869 victims. Those numbers were the highest levels seen in the city since 2006, according to historical data. Homicides also increased more than 40% in 2020 over 2019.

Shea blamed state bail reforms that went into effect Jan. 1 of last year for putting criminals back on the street to commit more crimes. The reforms eliminated cash bail for defendants facing misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges — the bulk of all criminal defendants — so that their ability to pay no longer determined whether they'd have to remain in jail while awaiting a court date.

"We need help in terms of legislative fixes," Shea said, less than 24 hours after an NYPD cop was shot in a Bronx gunfight and investigators recovered a pistol. "We need judges to be able to keep dangerous people off the streets."

The officer was shot late Tuesday in a gunfight within seconds of stopping a man in the Soundview section of the Bronx, police said. Shea pointed to city cops getting shot and wounded in 2020 and numerous cases last year — including the fatal shooting of a 1-year-old in Brooklyn over the summer in an apparent gang shooting at a barbecue — as evidence that the amount of firearms in the hands of criminals on the street is out of control.

"Is there outrage?" Shea asked. "Certainly there is outrage but there is not enough outrage."

He said the criminal justice system has failed in the past few months.

"The solution is not complicated and it is right in front of us in terms of who is carrying guns and the consequences people who are carrying guns must face," Shea said.

Referring to the way the criminal courts have been constrained because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shea said: "There must be more calling for normalcy in the court system to get a functioning criminal justice system. That is not a luxury, that is a necessity and it has to happen soon."

More than 9,200 cops have tested positive for COVID-19. Despite that, Shea said, the department soldiered on, dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, summer demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, budget cuts and rising violence. And out of about 640 demonstrations, the police commissioner said, some were led by those bent on confrontations with cops.

To illustrate the loss of $1 billion in funding the department faced last year, Shea played a video that was apparently made by the NYPD in-house and narrated by Deputy Commissioner John Miller. Before working for the NYPD, Miller, the department's deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, had been a well-known TV news reporter and commentator.

Even with Shea's bleak presentation, he was able to strike an optimistic tone, promising the department can get a handle on gun violence in 2021 and beyond.

"I am more than confident that working in partnership with our district attorneys and a criminal justice system that is clicking on all cylinders, we can absolutely get this problem under control this year," he said.

By the numbers:

  • NYC gun arrests are up by 75% in 2021, compared to the same period last year.
  • Shootings have spiked by 17% over the same period in 2020.
  • 2020 saw more than 1,500 shootings with 1,869 victims, the highest rates since 2006.
  • Homicides increased by 40% in 2020, compared to 2019.

Source: The NYPD

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