Mayor de Blasio’s Push to Control Guns

Mayor Bill de Blasio is serious about reducing gun violence—and he and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton are quick to point out that despite the headlines, the city is arguably much safer than it has been in the past, at least when it comes to guns.

“The overall trend in our crime categories continues to go down,” said Commissioner Bratton in January.

The numbers bear him out. At the beginning of the year, according to police stats, crimes have dropped citywide by almost two percent compared to last year. Through mid-April, gun arrests were up too: 967 so far this year, compared with 863 in all of 2015. And police have seized more than 1,000 illegal weapons.

Dig a bit deeper and the stats paint a murkier picture: murder rates, year after year, went up by about 4.5 percent, according to the same statistics.

No one, however, can dispute that the mayor and his chief are seriously trying to do something about guns. Since the start of the mayor’s term, City Hall has been steadily issuing new initiatives to combat gun violence. Each program was assigned weighty-sounding names such as the Gun Violence Crisis Management System, Gun Violence Suppression Division, and the latest, Project Fast Track, announced in January, which involved the deployment of an additional 200 officers to combat gun crimes. Project Fast Track also launched a new gun court to speed up firearms cases and is beefing up long term investigations to end the flow of illegal guns.

“It’s the first time in our city’s history that the city government, and all elements of law enforcement, and our court system will all work together to achieve a brand new approach to reducing gun violence,” de Blasio said at a January news conference.

Mayor de Blasio has also joined the bipartisan national group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, that advocates for gun control. Last summer, he pledged $12.7 million to prevent gun violence in 14 precincts with the highest numbers of shootings in the city. De Blasio also set aside an annual budget of $1.27 million to fund drug and gun violence prosecution.

“We will expend every effort to get a lot more guns off the streets,” de Blasio said last October.

With the latest effort, in partnership with Project Fast Track, an officer from the Gun Violence Suppression Division is assigned to follow each gun case from start to finish. The Kings County Supreme Court appointed two judges and one judicial hearing officer dedicated to fast track cases related to illegal gun possession. And the Office of Chief Medical Examiner will receive $2 million to expand DNA testing next year.

Three months after de Blasio launched the project, the gun courts had received 136 cases, with 20 disposed and five going to hearing. None of the cases had been to trial.

Daniel Alessandrino, chief clerk at Kings County Supreme Court, said it used to take at least a year to bring the same case to trial; now it can be done within 180 days. Yet Alessandrino said it’s still too early to determine the project’s efficiency.

Suzanne Mondo, one of the two judges appointed to a gun court in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, said she is surprised at the effectiveness of Project Fast Track. She has noted an improvement in the adjournment process, which now takes just two weeks, and estimated that the project would take 200 guns off the city’s streets by the end of the year. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and NYPD declined to comment on the project.

As crime continues to drop and gun arrests rise, Mayor de Blasio hopes the city’s unified plan to combat gun violence will go beyond a trend and turn into lasting change.

“New Yorkers in every neighborhood in this city are united in their desire for safe streets,” said de Blasio. “To the few individuals responsible for New York City’s remaining gun violence, our message is clear: you will be found and you will be quickly prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”


Ang Li and Samantha McDonald 

Contributors: Justine Miller and David Roza