Mayor Eric Adams on Monday outlined a multi-pronged plan to improve public safety that would increase policing, expand employment and social programs in low-income communities, and seek changes to bail reform and federal gun laws, as he faces growing pressure to tamp down a surge in violent crime.
In a public address at City Hall, Adams called for an array of strategies he said would involve every city agency and coordination with state and federal officials.
“The sea of violence comes from many rivers,” Adams said, during a roughly 25-minute speech. “We must dam every river that feeds this greater crisis.”
His remarks follow a chaotic series of incidents last week culminating in a Harlem shooting that left one police officer dead and another hospitalized in critical condition. A former police officer, Adams has staked his mayoralty on improving public safety, which he has argued is critical to the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
Known as the “Blueprint To End Gun Violence,” the 15-page plan reflects the complexity of factors that Adams and other experts have said are contributing to the rise in crime. Over the weekend, the mayor held a roundtable discussion with a group of community leaders and residents, including crisis management officials who work to engage with gang members.
Among his most specific directives for the NYPD is the reinstatement of a controversial plainclothes police unit, something he has previously said he would do as mayor, that will focus on gun violence. In 2020, following the George Floyd protests, Dermot Shea, the police commissioner at the time, disbanded the plainclothes unit, saying the teams of roughly 600 officers had contributed to shootings and inflamed tensions between police and communities.
In the summer, the de Blasio administration rebranded the teams as public safety units.
Adams said he plans to supplement those units with newly created neighborhood safety teams. Beginning in the next three weeks, the officers will be sent to patrol 30 precincts where 80% of violence occurs. The mayor’s plan states that “several hundred” officer candidates had already been identified to work on the new initiative.
Many, if not most, of the social intervention strategies the mayor cited are not new and it is yet unclear how much additional money he intends to spend on these programs. He said the city would invest in an unprecedented expansion of youth employment that would launch this summer and will add violence-intervention programs to 10 additional hospitals.
The city will redirect funding from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature mental health initiative known as Thrive to address “areas of direct need,” including the rise in street homelessness.
The mayor has repeatedly touted his policing experience as making him uniquely qualified to meet the challenge of public safety. But he has also increasingly pointed to outside factors contributing to gun violence and a large component of his plan relies on legislative reform at the state and federal level.
Repeating his criticism of bail reform, Adams said he would push for changes to state laws to allow judges to consider “dangerousness” when determining when to set bail ahead of trial. Democratic state lawmakers changed the state’s bail laws in 2019, sparking immediate pushback from police unions and NYPD brass. The laws were subsequently tweaked in 2020 to allow more crimes to be bail eligible, but some groups have pushed for further rollbacks, arguing judges should have greater discretion.
However, reformers say allowing judges to consider “dangerousness” opens the door to continued racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Data from New York State showed about 2 percent of people released on bail were rearrested for violent felony charges between June 2020 and June 2021, the Times Union reported. State Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who helped spearhead the bail changes in the Legislature, said a "dangerousness standard" would set back progress the state has made on criminal justice reform.
“New York has never had a dangerousness standard. To impose that now would actually put us in a more restrictive posture than we were before [bail] reform,” he said in an interview. “[Adams'] arguments are ones we've been hearing about for well over a year from people who’ve tried to use this to score political points. It’s unfortunate he’s fallen prey [to that].”
The mayor is also asking state lawmakers to lower the age of accountability for gun charges to 16 or 17. Under 2017 legislation, criminal justice advocates successfully raised the age of accountability to 18 for all criminal charges.
At the federal level, Adams supported a list of measures that anti-gun advocates have long fought for in Washington, D.C. without success: a ban on assault weapons and legislation that would make gun trafficking a crime, increased penalties surrounding the illegal purchase of guns, and a crackdown on so-called ghost guns, which are firearms made from special kits.
Adams may have the most leverage in working with the state, with a seemingly eager partner in Governor Kathy Hochul — a fellow Democrat who is running for a full term. On Sunday, Hochul announced an Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns, which will convene law enforcement officials from nine Northeast states.
Even as Adams seeks to reassure New Yorkers that he will make the city safer, crime has surged in all major cities following the pandemic, triggered by what experts say is a variety of factors. Although the recent uptick has alarmed New Yorkers and lawmakers, New York City is still widely considered safer than the 1980s and 90's, when murders rose above 2,000. By comparison, there were 488 homicides last year.
One of the biggest challenges for Adams on policing is avoiding tactics that have disproportionately affected Black and brown communities in the past.
“I strongly oppose reversing common-sense bail reform, removing vital safeguards on the rights of the accused, expanding the use of facial recognition technology, and moving minors accused of gun possession out of family court and into criminal court,” said newly installed City Councilmember Tiffany Cabán, a former public defender and Democratic socialist who sits on the council’s public safety committee.
Earlier in the day, Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, delivered his own public safety plan, calling for greater investments in the Mayor’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention to bolster programming for vulnerable youth. It also calls for courts to expedite the prosecution of gun crimes, more funding for diversion programs for young offenders, and more NYPD investments in gun tracing technology, among other proposals.
Williams, a former City Councilmember who has been outspoken on issues of criminal justice reform, warned against the temptation to crack down on crime through overly aggressive policing. He’s long been a critic of Adams' plan, newly outlined on Monday, to bring back the plain clothes anti-crime units, which were behind some of the most high profile police killings in recent memory.
“A lot of people are talking about the bad old days and I understand why. It is scary to see these shootings in our streets and on our screens,” Williams said, citing the civil rights abuses of mass incarceration and stop-and-frisk. “We can build safer, stronger communities without relying on strategies which in the past have inflicted lasting harm. This is not a time to lose the lessons that we've learned.”
This story has been updated to reflect more recent information on rearrests following bail release.