The city was well on its way to setting a record low for the number of shootings and homicides on Dec. 27. Then our borough offered a sad reminder that not all murders require a bullet and a trigger.
At a time when national headlines are drenched in the passionate debate over gun control, and violent shooting deaths seemingly come by the bundle, our city ended 2012 with the fewest murders in its recorded history, with a record low number of shootings to boot.
There were 414 homicides in 2012 as of Dec. 28, shattering the previous record low of 471 set in 2009. The figure represents a 35 percent drop from 2011.
There was also a record low number of shootings in 2012, with 1,353 as of Dec. 23. The previous record was 1,420, also set in 2009.
That sets a low homicide rate of 3.8 per 100,000 residents. Compare that to other major cities such as Chicago, which hit 500 murders on Dec. 27 with one-third the population. At the same rate, New York would have counted 1,400 murders this year.
It all made for an ebullient mood at the graduation of 1,159 new police officers last Thursday at the Barclay’s Center, during a ceremony in which Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly touted the effectiveness of one of the nation’s elite law enforcement agencies.
Yet less than 24 hours earlier, Corona resident Sunando Sen was shoved off a subway platform in Sunnyside, in front of an oncoming No. 7 train.
Welcome to the safest big city in America, where cops are reportedly taking illegal handguns off the street at a clip of 800 per year, but an allegedly deranged Islamophobe can take your life with little more than a MetroCard.
The Mayor and Commissioner have perfected a pre-emptive crime system, the sort only a data-loving duo could espouse and nurture. Operation Impact has put a significant dent in violent crime by flooding the most troublesome neighborhoods with the most cops. It’s a common-sense approach: Put the resources where they are needed most. This efficiency is commendable, especially at a time when police ranks are falling short, according to some.
The other controversial police tactic, “stop and frisk,” appears to be working. Officers now confiscate 8,000 weapons a year from individuals they stop, according to Kelly. We cannot argue with those figures. But concerns remain. Common sense legislation has removed some of the legal gray areas, but not all. It’s still an imperfect system, but it can be fixed in the long term. Any program that takes 800 handguns off the streets must be continued.
But remove shooting deaths and the city still had 177 murders in 2012. Which brings us back to Sunando Sen.
The 46-year-old never knew his killer, Erika Menendez. His tragic death illustrates the deficiencies of data-driven tactics such Operation Impact, Stop and Frisk and Compstat.
The 31-year-old Menendez reportedly has a history of mental health problems and several run-ins with police.
Folks like Menendez are largely off the NPYD’s tactical radar. Stopping and frisking her would have produced nothing.
But many like her, who for good or ill need help, have been ignored by our mental health and criminal justice systems. It is that human element that’s missing in the NYPD’s highly effective tactics. Yes, 414 homicides is a remarkable feat. Bravo. We hope this trend continues.
One less gun would not have saved Sunando Sen’s life. Perhaps at least one more vigilant, caring person monitoring Menendez may have stopped such a tragedy.