New York City in Grip of Organized Street Crime

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
September 22, 2022 Updated: September 29, 2022

Crime in New York City has exploded this year. The last time the Big Apple saw more theft rotting its core, Frank Sinatra was still alive. After a surge in shootings over the previous two years, murders have somehow subsided. Instead, nearly all other forms of crime have mushroomed. The city’s police department, the NYPD, has been arresting people at numbers not seen for decades, but with limited effect—the criminals are often quickly back on the street.

In what appears to be a new trend, street crime has become more brazen and systematic.

Just as in many other major cities across the country, New York City is scourged by unscrupulous shoplifters who fill up their bags with merchandise and walk out of the store in plain view. Petty theft is up some 43 percent so far this year, with more than 82,000 reported incidents. That’s the most since at least 1995, according to the NYPD crime data portal, CompStat.

Grand theft, which usually refers to pickpocketing or theft of more than $1,000 in value, went up by more than 44 percent, with more than 36,000 incidents—the most since 1998.

Robberies, meanwhile, are up more than 38 percent. The NYPD has identified a new pattern where criminals appear to be more organized and systematic.

“We have seen multiple robberies committed in a short time span and in close proximity to each other,” said NYPD chief of detectives James Essig during a Sept. 7 press briefing.

The criminals will steal a vehicle and then use it for a quick crime spree.

“They use numerous stolen cars, motorcycles, or scooters, and they change the plates during the commission of their crime,” Essig said. “All involve a large number of individuals who break into smaller groups to commit these violent robberies.”

In one such incident on Aug. 29, several young men stole a Honda Civic around 4 a.m. in the posh Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn. Less than an hour later, they pulled up on Union Turnpike in Queens and robbed a 7-Eleven at gunpoint. They hit another 7-Eleven half an hour later and two more stores an hour after that.

The police arrested several suspects, including one minor and one 18-year-old with 78 prior arrests, including seven for robberies.

“He’s 18 years old. He’s been arrested 78 times. How many hundreds of New Yorkers has he victimized, and yet he keeps being released only to go back and victimize others,” said NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey during the briefing, noting that robbery recidivism has been “sky high.”

Progressive DA, Bail Reform

The street crime boom coincides with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg taking office in January after winning his race with significant financial backing from progressive billionaire George Soros. Just two days after assuming office, Bragg issued a memo constraining prosecutions for lower-level offenses, including some armed robberies and some burglaries (pdf).

Also, in 2019, the New York state legislature passed a bail reform that bars judges from setting cash bail in many nonviolent and some violent offenses, including most second-degree burglaries and some second-degree robberies (pdf).

Some NYPD officers previously told The Epoch Times that the reform had undermined officer morale, as seeing criminals back on the street shortly after being arrested made the officers’ work seem pointless.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer who campaigned last year partially on a law-and-order platform, called for changes to the bail reform law. He noted that the state is the only one in the country that blocks judges “from considering the danger an offender poses when deciding whether or not to set bail,” according to an Aug. 3 statement from Adams’s office.

Race Question

The push for more lenient treatment of lower-level crime has usually been justified by the fact that the share of black arrestees is greater than the black percentage of a given jurisdiction’s population. In New York City last year, for example, nearly 60 percent of robbery arrestees were black (pdf). But the city’s population is less than 24 percent black.

By contrast, more than 40 percent of the city is white, but only about 6 percent of robbery arrestees were white. The argument thus assumes that police single out black people for arrests, and district attorneys should show leniency to robbery suspects to lower incarceration rates among blacks.

The problem with that argument is twofold.

First, nearly 65 percent of robbery suspects were identified as black, while less than 5 percent as white. That means that black suspects were more than 60 percent likely to be identified as suspects than they were to be arrested for the offense. White people, by contrast, were slightly more likely to be arrested than they were to be marked a robbery suspect.

Second, while there has been no dispute over helping black youth to avoid prison and stay on the right track, simply not arresting them neglects the second part of the equation—the victims.

“I think we do ourselves a little bit of a disservice when we just say bail reform. Criminal justice reform is the total package, and these laws were meant to address disproportionality in the criminal justice system. But a disproportionate number of our victims are people of color as well,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said during the briefing.

Police Under Pressure

The state’s lawmakers and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul agreed in April to tweak the rules to allow bail for a somewhat wider range of crimes, such as gun-related crimes, hate crimes, and repeat theft offenses.

But police officers have complained about other issues, such as a general disrespect toward the profession, as well as the city’s change in use-of-force rules a few years ago that outlawed some martial arts techniques used to safely subdue resisting suspects.

A 2020 city law says that “no person shall restrain an individual in a manner that restricts the flow of air or blood by … sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm, in the course of effecting or attempting to effect an arrest.”

Such positions are virtually unavoidable in arresting a resisting subject without using a baton, taser, or a gun, according to Rener Gracie, a martial arts instructor who’s been teaching law enforcement defensive techniques from Brazilian jiujitsu for more than 20 years.

“Every single one of them [arrests] in which the police is successful … included momentary, at the very least, pressure on the diaphragm of the subject,” Gracie previously told The Epoch Times.

Arrests that fail or escalate to higher levels of violence are usually those where the officers failed to pin the subject down, he said.

The law is worded so broadly as to make it illegal even when an officer ends up in one of the forbidden positions accidentally and the suspect suffers no injury.

“It’s now going to make it impossible for police officers to overpower somebody without hurting them,” said Robert Brown, former NYPD captain and now a criminal lawyer, in an earlier phone call with The Epoch Times.

Several current and former NYPD officers previously told The Epoch Times that many officers are looking for early retirement due to the increasing difficulty of doing their jobs.

Since 2019, the city has lost more than 2,000 police officers, with retirements slated to be the highest on record, the New York Post reported in June.

Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.