NEW YORK (AP) — Year-end boasts by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that New York is the safest big city in America can ring hollow in Brownsville, a Brooklyn neighborhood where there is a cycle of violence, silence and retribution and where crime reduction has lagged behind record lows across the city.
A burst of gunfire on neighborhood streets this past summer typified the frustrating cycle. A baby boy was struck in the head by a stray bullet and killed as he sat in his stroller. His father, who police believe was the target, refused to help police identify the gunman.
Two men have since been arrested in the shooting, which appears gang-related. Bishop Willie Billips, a clergyman who went to the scene that night to comfort the family, said the slow fuse of potential payback probably was lit.
“With a lot of these guys, it’s a matter of time,” he said. “I’m watching for that.”
New York is on track to achieve another all-time low in homicides this year, and police department officials have credited initiatives targeting gangs and domestic violence with reducing murders across the five boroughs. The New York Police Department also has stood by its heavily criticized strategy of systematically stopping and frisking young men to combat illegal gun possession.
“Not long ago, these kinds of strong public safety numbers would have been unimaginable, but they have become reality, and that is simply extraordinary,” Bloomberg said last week.
A key to the success has been avoiding complacency, outgoing police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in an interview.
“Sound public policy says that you try to continue to reduce crime to zero,” Kelly said. “We know that is impossible, but we should still be striving for that goal.”
But community leaders in Brownsville say a big police presence doesn’t make up for better schools, more jobs and cleaner, better housing.
“This is not just about blanket police work, this is about economic development and job creation,” said Charles Barron, a longtime City Council member whose district includes the neighborhood. “If you’re serious about crime, instead of building Yankee Stadium, build some youth centers in our neighborhood, fund our schools and teach science and culturally relevant topics, build self-esteem.”
Homicides citywide were down more than 20 percent, to 333, for 2013, a record low, according to NYPD crime statistics. Killings have been cut nearly in half since Bloomberg took office.
But in Brownsville, the year-end homicide totals have fluctuated in the Bloomberg era, with spikes of 28 in 2004, 2007 and 2010. This year, where many large police precincts now typically see only a sprinkling of murders, or none at all, Brownsville has recorded 14, a new low, and two fewer than in 2012 but eight more than nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant.
A comparison of year-end tallies in Bloomberg’s first year in office, 2002, to those at the end of 2012 shows overall serious crime was down 30 percent, including a 25 percent drop in the once-violent South Bronx. For Brownsville, it was a 9 percent decline.