The news of the New York City subway shooting this past week made headlines across the US and around the world.
Fortunately, no one was killed. The shooter was captured. And New York Mayor Eric Adams said all the right things for the public to hear.
“This week New York City showed the entire globe what our city has always been about,” Adams told a news conference after the arrest of shooting suspect Frank James. “Courage, heroism, quick thinking and decisive action.”
However, the subway shooting is just one of a growing number of violent incidents in NYC which highlights the underlying problem in the Big Apple: crime is up.
“This has been particularly brutal,” said Adams' predecessor, former Mayor Bill de Blasio, in an interview after the attack.
The New York City Police Department recently released crime statistics for this March, and the numbers are troubling.
The overall crime index rose 36.5% year-on-year, with 9,873 crimes being committed this past March versus 7,232 crimes in March 2021.
Armed robbery was up 48.4%, grand larceny saw a 40.5% spike, and grand larceny auto rose a staggering 59.4%.
While the murder rate dropped 15.8% and rapes went down 4.3%, felony assault was up 17.5% and shootings incidents climbed 16.2%.
Adams, a former NYPD captain and transit officer, took the reins of the mayor’s office this year with a focus on making the US’ most populous city of 9 million people feel safe post-pandemic.
However, the first three-and-a-half months of his tenure have been riddled with headline-grabbing violent incidents, with last Tuesday’s subway shooting the most terrifying so far, as 10 people were shot and dozens more injured.
“And I feel for him,” said de Blasio. “I think he’s done a fine job, especially as he’s just getting used to it.”
The high-profile subway attacks started on Jan. 15, when a 40-year-old woman was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming subway train in Manhattan’s Times Square. The alleged attacker was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Police say the man had a history of violence and mental illness.
Less than two weeks later, a 62-year-old man was pushed onto the tracks in front of a train in Lower Manhattan. The man survived, but the suspect fled the scene.
And in February, a homeless man stabbed a subway passenger in an unprovoked attack.
Responding to the increased violence, Mayor Adams and New York Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled a plan to make the subway system safer by boosting the police presence and enforcing rules to make sure only passengers are using the areas for transportation, not people who are loitering or harassing other riders.
Officers were also placed on the lookout for aggressive behavior, as well as people sleeping in the subway system.
However, the bulk of New York’s violent crime is happening beyond the subways and is infiltrating neighborhoods, especially those with communities of color.
Adams reinstated a controversial plainclothes police unit back in January after an 11-month-old girl was hit by a stray bullet in the Bronx. Nearly two weeks later, two police officers were shot responding to a domestic dispute in Harlem. One of the officers died and the suspected gunman was killed.
In addition to the plainclothes unit, Adams has also called for help from the federal government to crack down on homemade handgun kits, also known as ghost guns. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced a rules change to do just that. All of these efforts, said Adams, were meant to “zero in on guns and gangs” and make New Yorkers feel safer.
Similar crimes, diverse reasons
On his first day as mayor, Adams rode the subway to City Hall and admitted he didn’t feel safe. He vowed to tackle “actual crime” and “the perception of crime,” but the recent subway attack is magnifying the problem of violent crime, and the public perception of safety is looming large over his administration.
“The overall reality is NYPD has actually done a very good job over the years of making the subway safer and safer,” said de Blasio. “Police can do so much, but they can’t do it alone. They need eyes and ears and cooperation of the public.”
But crime and criminals are not one-size-fits all. From the violent subway crimes to a shooting spree in March where eight different people were shot across the city in one night, New York is experiencing an uptick in violent crime that seemingly can’t be controlled with such a sprawling geographic area and a limited number of police officers.
“One of the challenges with crime is you can get three people shot in one night and they’re all shot for different reasons that have different solutions and different responses,” said former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a television interview.
Quinn says it’s difficult to have a discussion about how to prevent last Tuesday’s subway shooting without knowing more about the suspect, his motivation, and his mental health, explaining that it’s difficult to try and link that one incident to overall violent crime in New York.
“There are very few things that one elected official can fix alone,” Quinn said, referring to Adams. “Even in a big city like New York, a lot of what exists here is also controlled by the state and the feds.”
While there is no one answer to combating crime in NYC, Quinn says confronting the overall crime problem is a multifaceted response that will take cooperation and coordination from all levels of government.
“There is no bigger bully pulpit and convening power, short of the president of the United States, than that of the mayor of the city of New York,” said Quinn. “And we know Eric Adams is not afraid to use that.”