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Times Square 'wilding' has many on edge

A night of “wilding” in midtown Manhattan that left four people shot gave New Yorkers new reason to worry the bad old days of rampant street crime were coming back.

What’s more, some claimed authorities dropped the ball by not warning area businesses about what cops say has become an Easter tradition of violence.

The four people were shot near Times and Herald squares early Monday, and 33 people were arrested following the auto show at the Jacob A. Javits Center, police said. Paul Browne, a spokesman for the NYPD, said there have been similar problems since at least 2003 following the spring show, including stabbings in 2006 and 2007.

With murders up 22.5 percent and shootings up 19 percent so far this year, many were quick to see the incidents as a sign the city's historically low crime rates could be a thing of the past.

“We need to get in front of this growing epidemic before we find ourselves reliving the bad old days of the 1970s,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. “Everyone should be on heightened alert.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the term “wilding” to describe the incidents, resurrecting a term used in the 1989 rape of the Central Park jogger, whose case became a symbol of a city that had lost control.

“This is just a bunch of people who shouldn't be on the streets if they behave this way and we're not going to stand for it,” Bloomberg said. “We loaded the area up with police, but they can't be everywhere.”

Three men and a woman were charged with gang assault in connection with one of the shootings and 23 people were given summonses for disorderly conduct, police said. A man and two women were shot and were in stable condition yesterday with non-life-threatening injuries; one woman was shot with a BB gun and was treated and released.

Cops would not say how many added patrols there were in anticipation of the violence, nor would they whether they warned local businesses, but half a dozen merchants interviewed Monday said no one contacted them.

“If there had been similar incidents in the past, businesses should have been warned,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), head of the public safety committee.

Vallone said deep cuts to the police department — the ranks of the NYPD are nearing two-decade lows — can be blamed for the increase in crime.

Zuzer Hossain, who owns a camera shop half a block from where one of the shootings happened — on 40th Street and Eighth Avenue — said the area has gotten worse over the past year and a half.

“You don't feel secure at night,” Hossain said. “I'm concerned for my employees going home late.”

The first person shot was a man hit in the ankle around 12:10 a.m. Monday at 40th and Eighth; two hours later, two 19-year-old women were shot — one in the elbow, the other in the thigh — at 34th and Seventh. The woman hit with the BB gun was at 51st and Seventh Avenue.

The melee follows a shoot-out in Times Square in December in which police killed a street peddler who was armed with an automatic weapon.

Eugene O'Donnell, a police studies professor at John Jay College, said criminals are the first to know when police are overstretched, emboldening them.

“I don't think it's too early to start worrying,” O'Donnell said. “Historically, there have been watershed crimes in the city, certain events, that make people stand up and take notice.”

The AP contributed to this story.

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