In Depth: Fighting back against New York City's crime surge

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York City has seen a surge in violence and crime over the last few weeks and city leaders seem to be at odds over the next steps forward.

On Friday, multiple men were injured in a violent string of slashings and stabbings on a 4 train in Manhattan and just last weekend, a shooting in Times Square injured three people, including a 4-year-old girl who was shopping for toys with her mom.

The latest data from the NYPD shows major crimes continue to rise month-over-month, and as New York City tries to come back from the pandemic, the numbers may be causing some tourists to stay away.

In this week’s In Depth Podcast, we wanted to explore what can be done to lower crime in New York City and we first spoke with Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York, who told us that it is critical to improve safety in the subway system first.

“The subway system is the backbone of New York City. If people aren't using the subway system, we are really in trouble. There'll be no coming back from COVID if people are not willing to ride the subway system. And I am concerned right now because I'm hearing this from folks, that they're concerned about going down there. So, yes, if I had a magic wand, I would increase the police presence in the subway system,” he said.

MTA leadership and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have repeatedly called on the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase police patrols in the city’s underground. However, the mayor has resisted the calls and insists that the subways are safe.

Though, data from an MTA survey shows the majority of customers are fearful of crime and violence when the use the city’s subway system.

Aborn says he is not surprised that people are fearful, and agrees with the MTA in that the NYPD should send more officers to patrol the system.

“The reason that people are very fearful is that New Yorkers have now come to expect, and they have a right to expect this, to live in a very safe city. And I say that because the NYPD has shown over the last 18 or 20 years that it can drive down crime pretty consistently from year to year to year, but they've got to have the tools to do it,” he said. “If we can get those cops on the streets and give them the tools they need to enforce the law, I think you'll then start seeing some of this spike start to reverse.”

But putting more cops in the subways or on the streets comes at a time when some want to cut the NYPD budget.

City Councilmember Adrienne Adams, of Queens, is chair of the Public Safety Committee and says she wants to trim police overtime so that the money can be used on services that could reduce crime.

“I think that it would increase more services into mental health that we need,” she tells WCBS 880. “I think that police should be relegated to keeping us safe. And the budget has not always reflected just those services of the agency.”

Still, she notes that she is very concerned about the rise in crime.

“I'm extremely concerned about the crime surge that's gone on in the city and really across the country. Gun violence is out of control right now. And I mean, it's terrible,” Adams said. “This year alone, murders are up 18% versus the same time last year. Shootings are up 83%. And in the first four months of the year, I believe there were over 400 shootings. And I'm extremely concerned about this surge in gun violence.”

The councilmember said, however, that if it were up to her, she would not increase the city’s police force. Instead, she wants to restructure the department.

“I think that police need to be more effectively utilized. We have an extreme number of police who are working civilianized jobs right now,” Adams said. “We've got about $180 million wasted on police officers who are sitting behind desks when we need them to be on patrol and keeping us safe. The NYPD says that 386 position could be civilianized.”

To hear the full conversation with Richard Aborn and Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, listen to the 880 In Depth Podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.