NY DAs Make Suggestions To Address State's Violence Problem

(AP Photo/Philip Kamrass, File)

The state of New York has a real problem with violence right now. It’s not just New York City, either. It’s so bad that Gov. Andrew Cuomo opted to declare a state of emergency to address the violence.

However, that state of emergency can only do so much, and that’s if they correctly identify the issues. Since Cuomo has such hate for gun rights, you can be quite sure he’s going to blame the guns.

Luckily, not everyone in New York is that myopic. A couple of district attorneys in the state have some solid advice the governor and the rest of the state should listen to.

There is no doubt that guns and gun violence have created an environment that justifies the immediate attention of our governor. Illegal guns and the associated bloodshed threaten the safety of our communities and stunt New York State’s resurgence following the pandemic. This is not, however, a crisis that occurred overnight, and it will not be resolved overnight or with studies and window dressing, which is largely how we would characterize Gov. Cuomo’s response. The serious issue of curbing gun violence is significant and complex and does not need 30-day executive orders and press events. It needs meaningful dialogue and change.

Potential solutions are complex but demand action and careful planning. This will require an ongoing major investment of resources as well as evolving and thoughtful communication with many stakeholders. Ultimately this will also require a willingness to make necessary changes to our current laws.

Two years ago, New York State’s criminal justice system was transformed overnight during a late-night budget deadline deal lacking in transparency. Unfortunately, there was little, if any, meaningful dialogue with law enforcement. The police and prosecutors who would soon be tasked with complying with these new laws had virtually no input. Hopefully, the perspective of our state’s district attorneys will be considered as we once again work to regain New York ‘s standing as one of the safest largest states in our country.

Targeting gun violence hotspots using science and data works and gun violence clusters are already being identified in communities all over the state. The good news is that much of the data that the governor is seeking regarding gun violence, shootings and injuries already exists. Right now, today, many of our jurisdictions are examining the data and engaging stakeholders such as community leaders, police departments, prosecutors and elected officials in coming up with workable solutions. But more collaboration can be done with state and federal partners. These precision efforts need to happen on a hyper-local level, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Beyond statistics, real solutions only come from varied interests working together. We should not undo the noble goals of criminal justice reform. But we must infuse reforms with an objective look at what has worked and what may have contributed to the startling rise in gun violence. We, as prosecutors, continue to stand ready to work with the governor and Legislature to find workable solutions.

This isn’t just a call to unity or some other lofty notion lacking real suggestions. Quite the contrary.

For example, the authors note that illegal guns have been in the state for several years and aren’t fresh out of the gun store. That means gun control measures that impede the sale of firearms aren’t likely to have much of an impact on violent crime.

But they do point out some recent changes that have.

Due to a number of recent changes in our laws, law enforcement’s traditional ability to search and seize illegal firearms has been inhibited. Among these are a reduction in stop and frisk and the issuance of summonses as well as the elimination of plain clothes units in New York City. Compounding this are the dozens of new laws and transformative alterations to existing laws that have occurred over the past two years that have far-reaching impact on how law enforcement is able to do their jobs including the ability to search and seize handguns. Although the goal of these acts of the Legislature were no doubt well-intended, the consequence is that thousands of illegal weapons seized each year will no longer be taken off the streets. This highlights the need for a conversation about how we can protect the public from illegal guns and what new tools can be fairly utilized by police going forward.

In other words, activists campaigned against efforts that actually worked because they were supposedly racist or insensitive of various ethnicities, but the facts speak for themselves. New York City was a violent hellscape before these policies were put in place, then it became a hellscape after they were removed.

Seems pretty clear that they worked, as did the broken window approach to policing.

As for the other “alterations” mentioned, I’m guessing they’re referring to bail reform and things of that sort. Those turn our jails into revolving doors and making it more difficult for judges to keep truly dangerous people behind bars pending trial.

What’s notable, though, is what’s missing from this discussion. The authors–both district attorneys in the state of New York–didn’t call for more gun control. They both make it clear that they recognize that gun control has minimal effect on criminals who aren’t buying their guns in gun stores.

If only the governor had half as much sense.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET