NYPD Crime Scene Unit detective gathers and logs evidence at...

NYPD Crime Scene Unit detective gathers and logs evidence at scene of a shooting where a 34-year-old male was fatally wounded in Queens Village early August 23, 2020. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

With the first quarter of 2021 almost in the books, New York City is seeing a surge in shootings and homicides at a level exceeding the grim numbers for 2020 — one of the worst for bloodshed in recent years, according to NYPD statistics released Monday

Through March 28, the five boroughs recorded 245 shootings, an increase of nearly 50% over last year, and a rise in those wounded to 274, or 47.3% over 2020, the data showed. After weeks in which killings were in decline, homicides now total 84, up 13.5%.

"This is deeply, deeply concerning," said Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, who said the violence was the city’s second public health crisis after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late last year, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea expressed optimism about crime trends after a year in which shootings increased by almost 100%, or just over 1,500, a level not seen since about 2006.

"I think better times are ahead … into 2021," Shea had said during a year-end briefing with reporters.

But while total overall felonies, including burglaries, rapes and robberies, are down 17.7% from the same period in 2020, shootings and homicides are trending upward.

"My own sense is these two categories of crime will not diminish with warmer weather coming," said former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton.

NYPD officials didn’t respond Monday to a number of requests for comment, although in recent weeks Shea has called the shootings "concerning."

Shootings began to dramatically increase in May 2020 and kept at high levels for many weeks. Those wounded totaled more than 1,850 last year, and a number of innocent bystanders, including a 1-year-old child in a stroller in Brooklyn, were killed by gunfire. Homicides totaled more than 400 in 2020.

In recent weeks, police have attributed the rise in shootings to gang activity, also correlating them with a high number of quality-of-life complaints in certain high-crime areas. The correlation prompted the NYPD to intensify efforts in 2021 to engage community leaders and other stakeholders to help deal with quality-of-life issues in an effort to reduce violence, officials said.

Bratton thinks there has been too much of a reduction in basic enforcement activity. "Is there too much pullback on quality-of-life enforcement? I think certainly," he said.

Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective and now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, attributed the increased violence to what he believed was lack of proactive policing in the face of defunding police sentiment.

Aborn believed that the bail reforms of last year and a pullback in court activity because of the pandemic have made gang members and other criminals think they won’t face consequences if caught with a firearm.

"If you don’t fear apprehension, prosecution and punishment, there is very little deterrence," said Aborn.

The NYPD has made 1,351 gun arrests this year compared to 845 a year ago. But Bratton believed that the fact that some gun suspects are released without bail is contributing to the violence problem.

"There is almost no penalty for being caught with a gun, particularly if you are a juvenile," Bratton said.

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