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First, Undo the Damage

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eye on the news

First, Undo the Damage

To address the public-safety crisis, New York’s leaders should begin by rolling back failed policies. May 27, 2022
Public safety
New York
Politics and law

In January, after Deloitte executive Michelle Go was pushed into an oncoming subway and killed on a busy Times Square platform, Mayor Eric Adams said, “Cases like this aggravate the perception of fear.” Now he admits it’s not just perception. Last month, a gunman set off smoke bombs and opened fire in a crowded morning rush-hour train, injuring more than a dozen people. And on May 22, a 25-year-old man shot and killed Daniel Enriquez, a 48-year-old Goldman Sachs research analyst riding the subway on his way to brunch.

In each of these cases—and many more—the perpetrators had long rap sheets. Enriquez, like Go, was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. He traveled at a reasonable time, to a reasonable place, when reasonable people have a right to expect basic safety. Report after report called the murder “senseless,” with the CEO of Goldman Sachs dubbing the homicide a “senseless tragedy” and the NYPD commissioner calling it a “senseless shooting.” But “senseless” is the wrong word and implies passivity and insignificance. Rather, this was a heinous, intentional crime that will induce anxiety in all citizens as they go about their normal business.

The NYPD reacted to the latest shooting by creating a Train Patrol Force that will make patrols in the late evening and overnight hours. The New York State Assembly passed Sedrick’s Law to require the MTA to have cameras at all subway stations and increase surveillance technology. These are both good steps, but neither would have prevented the deaths of Go or Enriquez, both of which happened in the morning, not in the late hours that account for 40 percent of subway crimes. As for cameras, they are more useful after the fact to identify perpetrators, and existing cameras in stations have not deterred the recent attacks. Furthermore, Enriquez was killed not in a station but inside a train, where 54 percent of subway crime occurs.

The reality of crime has continued to limit subway ridership. And, in a vicious circle, lower ridership worsens crime. But while crime underground intensifies apprehension because it seems that there are fewer places to flee or hide, the streets have seen similar increases in crime. Children are often armed by parents with pepper spray and knives for protection en route to school, and weapons confiscation in schools has increased, even as enrollment and attendance have declined.

Residents are taking matters into their own hands. In Manhattan’s Chinatown, one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, women and seniors lined up several times over the last month to get free pepper spray. Free self-defense lessons have become a staple in parks and community centers. A little over a mile away, at New York University, student tour guides are given “de-escalation” training to cope with not only continual harassment and begging by homeless people but also physical assaults. Citizen patrols and safe escorts such as Guardian Angels and Safewalks are expanding their presence in multiple neighborhoods. And gun-permit applications in New York have more than doubled since 2017.

Crime is up in the first months of 2022 in 72 of the city’s 77 precincts. The killing of two police officers as the year opened reminds us that if those charged with protecting citizens are themselves endangered because of bad policies, all law-abiding citizens have reason to fear. Citizens locking themselves in their homes, arming themselves, training themselves against assaults, going on patrols—all reflect a failure of government to provide public safety.

Many obstacles currently stand in the way of restoring that safety. Restrictions put on police are well-known both to criminals and law-abiding citizens. Failed policies have encouraged criminal behavior by lowering the transaction costs of crime, including Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s refusal to prosecute and the state’s bail reform law—to which lawmakers made incomplete changes during the last budget cycle. The new Less Is More law targets incarceration reduction, makes negligible improvement on parolees, and pays lip service to public safety. Raise the Age legislation recently lifted the age of criminal culpability up from 16 to 18 years and encourages seasoned criminals to enlist teenagers in their activities. And the city’s mental-health system remains overrun.

In this time of crisis, the city and state must look for immediate and long-term solutions to reverse the crime surge. Rolling back failed policies is an obvious first step.

Photo by Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

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