Crime, especially violent crime, tends to be concentrated in small geographical areas. NYPD reports over the past decade show that about 1 percent of streets in New York City produce approximately a quarter of all crime, and around 5 percent of streets produce about half. But changes in criminal-justice policy over the past few years have pushed violent crime and the accompanying feelings of helplessness and disorder well beyond those narrow confines.

Barely a month into 2022, at least 104 New Yorkers have been shot—a third more than at this time last year and about twice as many as this date in 2019. The shootings this year included six police officers (the murdered officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora among them) and an 11-month-old baby hit by a stray bullet in her car seat.

Why are cops and babies getting shot? Bad policy.

Younger boys are carrying and shooting guns. In April 2017, New York State passed Raise the Age legislation, upping the age of criminal culpability from 16 to 18. Gangs immediately exploited the law, shifting more gun-carrying to members under 18, whose cases would be heard in family court instead of criminal court. The lack of serious consequences emboldened young and reckless criminals. Since the policy change, the percentage of weapons charges made against those under age 18 quadrupled, from 2.5 percent of all cases in 2019 to 10 percent in 2021. And 48 percent of 16-year-olds arrested in the year following the policy change were re-arrested by January 31, 2020—including 27 percent rearrested for violent felonies.

Authorities are sending more boys who commit violent crimes back onto the streets. New York State’s unusually masochistic bail laws prohibit judges from considering the danger posed by the accused when setting bail. And bail “reforms” that went into effect statewide in 2020 allow for bail to be paid by a partially secure bond, making it easier for violent criminals to return to society. On January 19, Camrin Williams, a 16-year-old gang member in the Bronx already on probation for a 2020 gun-possession arrest, shot a cop who was dispersing a disorderly crowd. Prosecutors asked that Williams be held with no bail; instead, the judge set a price of $200,000. Williams was able to walk free after paying $17,500 (from his record contract) to secure the bond.

More mentally unstable young men are being released without oversight after committing violent crimes. Since Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Less Is More Act last September, hundreds of inmates held at Rikers Island for parole violations have walked free. More than half of all inmates on Rikers have mental-health issues, and post-release supervision is minimal, so unstable and violent individuals are flowing onto New York City streets. This dynamic contributed to the 70 percent increase in transit crime in January 2022 over the same period last year. Transit-crime levels now approximate those of 2019, when MTA ridership was more than double what it is now. The death of Michelle Go, shoved onto train tracks by Simon Martial, a parole violator with a history of mental illness-related violence, is just one tragic result.

State law also prevents judges from setting bail for “nonviolent” misdemeanors and felonies, including some burglaries, robberies, and assaults. Data available for the first year and a half after the bail-reform law took effect show that 41 percent of these accused criminal offenders were rearrested while out on bail awaiting prosecution for their original charges; of those, 23 percent were arrested on new felony charges. This explains how Darrell Johnson, a 23-year-old homeless man with more than a dozen arrests since 2014, was released without bail in 2020 for his “nonviolent” offense of beating a man “about the face with a closed fist multiple times” and using “his feet to kick and stomp” him. Last month, with the 2020 case still pending, Johnson was again freed without bail after attacking two women on the Upper West Side, leaving one with a “disfiguring laceration.”

So far in 2022, felony assaults are up citywide by almost 12 percent, robbery is up by one-third, grand larceny is up by more than 56 percent, and grand larceny auto is almost double last January’s numbers.

The policies promised by Manhattan’s new district attorney Alvin Bragg would further downgrade prosecution, charging, and sentencing consequences for crimes big and small. Though Bragg may adjust these policies eventually, the message they send to the young and violent is clear.

New York City and State need to reverse prosecution and incarceration policies that are emboldening violent individuals. Without changes, we should expect more mayhem in our streets.

Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next