In Misty Jimenez’s neighborhood of Belmont in the Bronx, crime has been an unfortunate reality of the largely minority neighborhood.
Lately, there’s been a sense of growing unease, according to Jimenez. The neighborhood, which falls within the 48th Precinct, has seen crime jump 10% this past year. Just a few days prior, a 61-year-old man was shot in the back several blocks from where Jimenez was sitting.
"Usually when you see people in this area arguing, you know something's gonna pop off, automatically,” she said. “Before you know it, the cops be over here, then the ambulances."
For Jimenez—who lives in the same neighborhood as where 15-year-old Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz was fatally stabbed in 2018, an incident that garnered worldwide attention—the feeling of unease over public safety is backed by statistics. The figures show that as crime has soared across the city, the Bronx is home to the highest crime rate. The steady rise in crime has increasingly become a focal point in the race for mayor—polls show the chief worry for New Yorkers is public safety, coinciding with a raging debate over policing.
But even as the mayor’s race draws to a close, some residents in the Bronx—a borough with historically low voter turnout—are casting politics and polls to the side. They just want change.
“I just want the mayor to... put themselves in our shoes and just come out to the neighborhoods,” Jimenez said. “You got to go where there's low-income buildings, projects; those are places that you really need to go and look out.”
Miriam Casanova, a grandparent who lives in the area, says she does not leave the house after 5:30 p.m.
“If I'm sick, I'm calling the ambulance,” said Casanova, who is within walking distance of St. Barnabas Hospital. “They need to do something, they really do.”
NYPD crime figures show 8,395 incidents were reported in the Bronx this year compared to 8,071 the same time last year, an increase of 4%. Driving that figure is the number of shootings, which has increased at nearly every Bronx precinct, save for the 50th Precinct in Riverdale, which has stayed the same as last year. But every Bronx precinct has experienced an increase in the number of shooting victims.
NYPD figures updated June 6th show 199 shooting incidents reported this year so far, compared to 89 the year before, a 123% increase. The number of shooting victims increased to 139%, up to 230 people shot compared to 96 the same time a year ago.
Those shootings are slightly below what Brooklyn is seeing, which reported 208 incidents. But crime in Brooklyn is down. Statistics show major crime precincts in northern Brooklyn precincts are down 7.72%, while precincts in southern Brooklyn have seen crime decreased by 2.23% when compared to the same time last year.
The murder rate has also increased in the Bronx, up 52 this year compared to 36 last year, a 44% increase. Mayor Bill de Blasio has blamed the uptick on the COVID-19 pandemic, and a high unemployment, which he says has consistently factored in to high crime rates.
Brenda Caldwell, president of the 52nd Precinct Community Council, said crime has been noticeably up. The precinct, covering parts of Norwood, Bedford Park, and Fordham, often experiences crime on the southern end of the precinct. These days, it’s happening in sleepier parts within the precinct’s borders.
“It wasn't affecting them directly like it is now,” Caldwell said, blaming non-residents for the spike in violence.
The increase in crime has amplified the candidacy of Eric Adams, the current Brooklyn borough president and retired police captain. While she did not say who she is going to vote for, Caldwell agreed with Adams’ commitment to restoring the controversial anti-crime unit. The NYPD disbanded the unit last year following citywide protests against the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer.
Anthony Rivieccio, a Bedford Park resident and founder of the Northwest Bronx Democrats, a political club, sees Adams as best suited to take on crime. Rivieccio, whose club will not back a mayoral candidate, said Adams may likely have to soften his approach to stop and frisk, a policy tool the candidate has defended.
"What is the 2021 version of stop and frisk?” asked of Adams’ policy. “Is it stop, let's say a prayer first, and then frisk you? I mean, what is it?"
The rise in crime has prompted some Bronx residents to craft their own solutions—in some cases, they mirror those of the candidates.
Walter Bell, an employee with St. Barnabas Hospital, proposed a job training program to permanently reduce crime. It’s a policy that has been embraced by mayoral candidates that include Maya Wiley, Ray McGuire, and Dianne Morales. For Bell, Wiley is best suited for the job given her proposal for a job training program under her New Deal New York plan.
“Nobody should walk around and not know how to do something,” Bell said, adding that crime will help reduce poverty that can lead to violence.
Casanova said beat officers are sorely needed on her block. These days, she’s noticed cops barely interacting with the public.
"Before they used to have that,” Casanova said. “Now they in the car, relaxing. You know, [get] them to walk. Let them come in the neighborhood.”
Read More: Who Is Running For Bronx Borough President?
Public safety has also surfaced in the race for the borough president’s seat, though the position of borough president is limited to what can they can do, as the mayor has the full discretion to determine where to deploy officers. Even so, those candidates have released their own platforms that call for greater sources to the police department, veering away from the “defund the police” movement.
Among the candidates is Samuel Ravelo, a retired NYPD lieutenant and staunch supporter of the police. On his website, Ravelo offers few recommendations for combatting crime, though in various forums he’s argued for a more muscular NYPD. The increase in resources, according to Ravelo’s campaign website, will aid the expansion of more de-escalation training for officers.
Other candidates have taken a more moderate approach. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a candidate currently representing the 16th Council District, called for greater resources for young people. She also wants to expand the New York City Crisis Management System which oversees the Cure Violence initiative, which involves dispatching credible messengers to high-crime areas to help pre-empt retaliatory gang-related shootings. As borough president, Gibson said she’ll commit to funding the program further.
“I think people are always talking about it with me as I knock on doors, and I meet people in commercial areas. They’re talking about programs for young people,” Gibson recently said in an interview.
Fernando Cabrera, a Council Member representing the 14th District in the west Bronx, has also promised to expand Cure Violence programs; he also looks to beef up the number of security cameras across the borough and bolster after-school programming.
Luis Sepulveda, another candidate and state senator, has offered a paltry set of solutions to combat crime. He’s emphasized he is not a supporter of the defund movement, but called for activating community-based policing programs rapidly, and pressed for greater transparency, according to his website.
Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernandez has leaned heavily on her experience in the State Legislature to combat gun violence. On her website, she pointed to passing rigorous laws to keep guns from people’s hands, but her website lacks forward-thinking solutions to the existing gun problem.
Some residents have already taken their concerns to the polls. At an early voting site inside the Soñia Sotomayor Community Center in Soundview, a woman who declined to give her name said crime influenced her pick for mayor. She wants a mayor “who understands.”
“I work in the court system. And until you open the courts it’s not going to change,” said the woman. “You gotta open the courts back up. And the courts have got to enforce the laws, and they’re not doing that.”
Kenneth Cooper, a Soundview resident who works for Con Ed, hopes the next mayor will usher even more resources to usher safety. He too declined to say who he voted for.
“I’m hoping they will fix the crime problem,” Cooper said of the next mayor. “I think they need more programs for the kids as well because they don’t have anything to do.”
Jimenez said she plans to vote in this election, with crime on her mind. Asked where she would rank crime as a concern, Jimenez said it breaks the 1 to 10 scale.
“It would be like a million right now,” she said.