NEW YORK (AP) – Mayor Eric Adams, a former New York police chief, took office this year with a central focus on making the city a sense of security and trying to bring it back to some sense of normalcy after the plague.
But the first 3 and a half months of his administration were surrounded by a string of high-profile violent incidents, with Tuesday’s subway shooting being the scariest and most public of all.
The morning rush hour attack, in which 10 people were shot in a system that serves as New York’s arteries, complicates Adams’ push to tackle crime and convince people that the city of nearly 9 million people is safe. It also took place against the backdrop of a broader, multi-year debate over policing and crime, and how the municipality should respond.
In New York City, as in many places across the country, violent crime rates have climbed since the plague, though they have remained well below rates seen three decades ago in the city’s infamous gloomy era, or even just a decade ago.
The mayor was among Democrats who rejected liberal calls for cuts to police budgets and instead divert resources to social services, and he sought to bring back some controversial policing tactics, saying they could be used as a useful tool for free. For past abuse.
Adams has a unique perspective. He’s not just a former New York police officer and transition officer, but a black man who has previously criticized the unfair practices of his department, and he is someone who has been brutally beaten by police as a teenager.
Since taking office on Jan. 1, he has talked about policing and crime frequently, as the list of frightening incidents has piled up quickly.
The city saw a random burst of gunfire, killing two policemen and terrorists that included a woman being pushed to her death in front of a train by a stranger.
“It was particularly cruel. And I feel for him. I think he did a good job, especially since he was just getting used to it,” said Adams’ predecessor and fellow Democrat, Bill de Bellasio.
Most of the violence the city experienced was not on the subway but in the neighborhoods, especially in colored communities. But attacks on the subway, an extensive vital network on which millions in New York rely, rise to public perceptions about safety.
Adams took the subway to City Hall on his first day as mayor, and called the 911 hotline to report a brawl near the train platform even before boarding the train. He later admitted that he did not feel safe on the train after encountering a screaming passenger and a number of homeless people, and said the city should deal with “actual crime” and “crime perception”.
Adams had already announced plans earlier this year to increase the number of police officers on subway and train platforms and tackle crime in general. He returned a controversial police unit against a gun, called for help from the federal government in an attack on ghost rifles and pushed for changes in New York bail laws.
Critics argue that focusing only on strengthening the police is not a solution to making the city safe, but more investment is needed in mental health programs and other social services.
Frank James, the 62-year-old suspect in the Brooklyn subway shooting, talked about his mental health struggles in a series of YouTube videos in which he described getting in and out of mental health facilities, including several in New York.
Before the attack on Tuesday, Adams began sending social work teams to try to connect people on the streets with help with mental health and other services. The mayor also announced plans to significantly expand a summer jobs program for youth designed to put young people into paid work while school is on hiatus, with the goal of diverting them from activities that could lead to arrest or violence.
After the subway shooting this week, Adams, in a series of interviews, discussed plans to increase the number of patrols on the subway and proposed installing metal detectors at stations – a decision that would ultimately be in the hands of the transit authority, which fell under state control.
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance representing New York City’s bus and subway passengers, said that despite a media incident like the shooting, the subway is still the safest way to get around the city, with road accidents and pedestrians. Damage to cars poses a much more reasonable danger.
Instead of researching metal detectors and other ways to test passengers, he said New York needs a better overall transportation system that will put more people on board and provide safety with strength in numbers.
“By transporting faster and more reliable and getting to more places that people want to get to is a way to increase the number of passengers,” he said.
De Bellasio praised Adams’ attempts to address both crime and perceptions of crime, saying public safety experts recommend that the best way to make the city feel safe is “more normalcy, more recovery than COVID.”
Returning people to trains and returning to the city is not only a reminder of New York’s resilience, but also another layer of eyes and ears to compliment police, the former mayor said.
“The overall reality is that the NYPD has done a very good job over the years in making the subway safer and more secure,” he said. “The police can do so much, but they can not do it alone. They need eyes and ears – and public cooperation.”
Former city council chairman Christine Quinn said it was difficult to have a discussion on how to prevent Tuesday’s shooting without knowing more about the alleged offender and his motivation and mental health, making it difficult to link it to a broader investigation of other violent crime in New York.
“One of the challenges in crime is that you can get three people to shoot in one night and they all shoot for different reasons that have different solutions and different reactions,” Quinn said.
She says Adams, with his law enforcement background, understands that crime and criminals are not for everyone. And while guns may be involved in a lot of crimes and more illegal guns should be taken off the street, other incidents can result from gang problems, mental health issues or other factors.
Dealing with crime usually requires a multifaceted response, she says, and help from many strata of the administration.
“There are very few things that a single elected public can fix on its own,” she said, “even in a big city like New York, much of what exists here is also controlled by the state and the Fed.”
“But there is no bullying stand and a larger gathering power – less than the President of the United States – than that of the mayor of New York. And we know that Eric Adams is not afraid to use it,” she said.
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