EXCLUSIVE: Most precincts in NYC's anti-gun violence program see drop in shootings
Advocates, experts question statistics as measure of success in community outreach to end rampant gun violence.
An 8 percent reduction in shootings across specific precincts in the five boroughs boosted by City Hall funding has officials claiming success even as the relationship between the program and recent crime rates remains blurry.
Last year, the de Blasio administration joined the City Council to disburse $12.7 million between community organizations and social services tasked with reducing gun violence and offering supportive programs for local youth.
As overall shootings are down citywide 1.8 percent— 947 incidents as of Oct. 25, 2015 compared to 965 in the same period last year — 12 out of 17 precincts participating in the program have seen a drop in shootings.
Eric Cumberbatch, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice anti-gun violence initiatives saw the drop in shootings within participating precincts as a success.
"By leveraging credible messengers in neighborhoods around New York City, we have been able to connect many young New Yorkers to a network of services that supports them on a path to a positive lifestyle," Cumberbatch said in a statement.
Brooklyn Councilman and co-chair of the body's gun violence task force Jumaane Williams told Metro he thought the overall program — which designated groups to work within 40-block areas inside their larger police precinct — does invaluable work on a ground level.
However, Williams said he'd like to see the mayor's office increase interagency collaboration. Mayor Bill de Blasio's August 2014 announcement committed to bringing in six agencies — including the health and education departments — to support a reduction in gun violence.
"Whether it's Ebola or Legionnaire's, the public sees these agencies working together," Williams said. "We need a clarion call around the disease of gun violence, and see the same response from agencies."
On the ground, S.O.S. Crown Heights is one of a handful of groups around the city tasked with working with their neighbors to reduce gun violence on a community level.
Similar organizations have been working with City Council members since 2009, though officials were clear to point out some communities may have their own unaffiliated efforts that help drive down shootings.
Crown Height's 77th Precinct, in which S.O.S. operates its 40-block area, has seen an overall drop in shooting incidents: 27 as of Sept. 27, 2015 compared to 31 in the same time frame one year earlier.
At the same time, the Bronx's 44th and 46th precincts, Brooklyn's 60th and 75th precincts as well as Staten Island's 120th precinct have all seen slight increases in shootings.
Suggs said despite pockets of violence, he and the organization haveseen recent change for the better in in his neighborhood of 40 years. S.O.S. Crown Heights, like their fellow organizations, work with residents who have turned their own lives around to connect their young neighbors with conflict mediation, mental health services and jobs.
"It doesn't happen overnight, but what we try to do is help kids see things earlier in life — not when they turn 35, 36, 37 — to see their mistakes," Suggs said.
Despite City Hall's general satisfaction with the results of the program so far, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Eugene O'Donnell, a former NYPD officer and prosecutor, said it can hard to pinpoint it's exact value.
Similar programs in Chicago haven't proven to be statistically effective, he said.
"But if it stops one person from being shot, if it turns one person away from violence — it's worth what you spend on it," O'Donnell added.
Suggs said he measures his own success as any time he convinces a young man or woman to go back to school or just ask for advice. He then pointed to a poster on the wall.
"It's been 33 days since our last shooting," it read, the number in blue dry-erase marker.
"Each day that number goes up," Suggs said, "we're successful."