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Adams, Sewell face tall task cutting violent crime in NYC

Future NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, left, with Mayor-elect

Future NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, left, with Mayor-elect Eric Adams in December. Credit: Craig Ruttle

After a year when New York City had some of its highest violent crime rates in decades, Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell now have bench marks from which their vows to reduce crime will be measured.

NYPD data showed that the city had 485 homicides in 2021, the highest amount since 2011, and 1,562 shootings, the most since 2006. In addition, all serious felonies including burglaries, grand larceny, rape, and robbery, totaled just over 102,500, the most since 2015.

Over the weekend, both Adams and Sewell spoke in public about their focus of getting guns off the street and joining with communities to go after crime — continuing strategies employed by the NYPD for years.

Although City Hall plans for gun-reduction and more community involvement have yet to be formulated, some experts believe those are the right strategies for dealing with a crime problem that has been escalating since 2019.

"They are absolutely right to be laser focused on guns, guns, guns," said Richard Aborn, head of the nonprofit New York City Citizens Crime Commission.

In weekend remarks, Adams repeated his campaign pledge to reinstitute a plainclothes police unit that will focus on taking guns off the street. Aborn said plainclothes units are an important step in cutting back on gun violence. According to police data, gun violence in 2021 led to 1,877 injured, with 30% being gang-related.

"There is a big challenge in stopping the level of retribution shootings that take place," as a way of cutting down on the amount of gang warfare, Aborn said.

The new leadership at City Hall and One Police Plaza will need to show fast and consistent results.

"I think the number one task is to cap the sharp rise [in crime] and start to reverse it and that needs to happen quickly," said Aborn. "After that they have to show steady progress in reducing crime."

Adams and Sewell have also stressed that cops must work in a cooperative venture with communities and neighborhoods they patrol, communicating to the public about what police are doing and why.

Sewell, who took over after a career at the Nassau County Police Department, including her final post as chief of detectives, will formulate her plans in an NYPD that has seen its strength reduced from 36,000 to just under 35,000 since about 2019. The most recent police academy class swore in just under 700, a level one police union official said can hardly keep up with attrition. There is also the problem, said former NYPD detective Joseph Giacalone, of officers fearing their vulnerability to lawsuits

Whatever happens over the coming months, the ability of the entire criminal justice system — including the courts and prosecutors — to quickly hold offenders accountable must be improved, Aborn said.

"Lack of any accountability means lawlessness," he said.

Giacalone, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, thinks Adams should be given a year to show progress.

"Time will tell," said Aborn.

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