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De Blasio optimistic about NYPD's crime fighting ability as homicides, shootings increase

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addresses members of the media, taking a few questions about crime statistics released by the NYPD, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday sounded optimistic that the NYPD would reverse the trend of increases in homicides and shootings in New York City.

"It is something we take very, very seriously," de Blasio said during a hastily called news conference at City Hall. "It is something we're addressing right now. There is no more important priority for me than public safety."

De Blasio noted that the city saw similar increases in killings and shootings last year, which he said police addressed by redeploying hundreds of desk officers to street patrol in the "Summer All Out" program. The program is to begin again Monday, a month sooner than last year.

"The NYPD has seen challenges before, and has overcome them," de Blasio said.

De Blasio was reacting to the latest crime figures, which showed homicides up by 19.5 percent and shootings rising nearly 9 percent year to date over the same period last year. Overall serious crime is down about 6.6 percent.

During a briefing for reporters on Monday, NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neill said the NYPD was "struggling with homicides and shootings," a frank assessment that one law enforcement official said angered some at City Hall.

Police attribute much of increase in violence to gang and crew activity in about 15 precincts, mostly in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Criminologists have said the increase in violence is something other cities such as Baltimore and Chicago also are experiencing. But since New York City has enjoyed more than a decade of big crime decreases, the recent bloodshed is raising calls for more cops -- something de Blasio is resisting in his latest budget request and that he wouldn't address Tuesday.

"There are not enough police officers on patrol, so management has to steal from one area of policing to shore up another," Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said Tuesday in a statement. "We need thousands more police officers and they need to have the backing and support of management and the city."

"More cops on the street leads to less crime; more cops on the street is a deterrent," said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who is on vacation in Italy, has said he needs more cops and has the backing of the City Council. One city law enforcement source who didn't want to be named said the NYPD counterterrorism plans require at least 500 more officers and at least 1,000 overall for all units.

"I am very alarmed by what is going on," said police historian and columnist Thomas Reppetto, who wants more officers. "We don't know what we are going to have -- riots, shootings, crack wars, terrorism?"De Blasio seemed comfortable with the big decline in stop and frisk. But privately, police officials think officers have been reluctant to engage people because of fear of possible legal consequences and ruining their careers.

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