Despite decades of plummeting crime in New York City, violence remains a daily threat in parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, Commissioner James O'Neill said Wednesday as he announced plans aimed at making the boroughs safer.
In his state of the NYPD address before a supportive audience of police brass, as well as business and political leaders, O’Neill said the NYPD will focus on reducing crime in six city precincts: the 40th, 41st and 42nd in the south Bronx; the 73rd and 75th in south Brooklyn, and the 25th in the East Harlem section of Manhattan.
O’Neill said the six precincts remain “stubborn pockets of crime, especially violent crime” in a city he decribed as the safest large city in the United States.
“Let me be clear," the police commissioner said during his address at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan, "even these six precincts have seen huge drops in violent crime since the early 1990s."
Even so, those precincts continue to grapple with some of the highest crime rates in the city, O'Neill said during the address, which was sponsored by the nonprofit New York City Police Foundation. In 2018, O’Neill said, the 40th Precinct had the largest overall violent-crime rate in the city, including the second highest robbery rate and the third highest assault rate. The 73rd Precinct had the third highest crime rate, including the second-highest murder rate and highest shooting rate, O'Neill said.
Final crime data for 2018 showed that the city did not have fewer homicides than in 2017 as first predicted. Due to reclassified cases, the final count was 295 homicides in 2018, compared with 292 in 2017. The murder rate is still 3.4 per 100,000 the lowest in the nation, as noted by O’Neill.
The NYPD plans to use improved technology for smartphones carried by police officers to connect them with residents of communities targeted by the department, he said. The department will also concentrate on police-related sports programs and other initiatives in the precincts in an effort to teach teenagers ways to de-escalate violence and steer clear of crime, O'Neill said. The latter project is likely to see an expansion of a pilot program unveiled earlier this week that uses virtual reality technology to expose teenagers to computer-generated scenarios aimed at helping them cope with gang bullying.
O’Neill’s precinct initiative is part of the NYPD's Neighborhood Policing strategy that he said represents how the department will take on crime in the future. Under the policy, certain cops are given dedicated assignments working with community members to develop sources of information and help solve other problems. O’Neill said the policy has “pushed both crime and enforcement down substantially,” citywide.
Some criminologists have said it is too early to say whether neighborhood policing, as practiced in New York, drives down crime in the short term. O’Neill, in an acknowledgement that the issue is worth further study, said the NYPD had signed a contract with the RAND Corporation, a Santa Monica, California-based think tank, to review the policy.
While O’Neill went to great lengths in his address to extol the dropping crime rate in the city overall, he expressed concerns over subway fare evasion and the potential legalization of marijuana for recreational use in New York state.
“There are issues surrounding home cultivation … and driving while impaired," O'Neill said. "I also have great concerns about people under 21 years of age smoking marijuana."