As December drew to a close, New York City’s 447 homicides made 2020 the city’s bloodiest year in nearly a decade, reported The New York Times.
Police officials in New York have pointed to gang disputes as a key driver of the violence over the summer, but several bystanders were caught in the cross hairs: a 43-year-old mother, killed by a stray bullet that went through her bedroom window in Queens; a man fatally shot on a handball court in Brooklyn; a 1-year-old boy, dead after a gunman opened fire on a cookout, also in Brooklyn.
But many cases were stalled because the pandemic had forced the courts to operate virtually. Hardly any new trials were conducted, and the progress of many cases was significantly slowed.
“I think we’ve struggled a little bit because of Covid, and how courts were closed, but when things start opening up, we have a lot of great work in the hopper ready to go, to really close some of the violence that we saw in 2020,” said Rodney Harrison, the Police Department’s chief of detectives.
Combating street feuds has become a sort of routine for the police, particularly in the warmer months when turf battles and social media fights can lead to spikes in gun violence in certain neighborhoods. But officials and experts have said that something about the summer’s violence felt less predictable, and that made anticipating trends more difficult.
“I think it’s about something more, something out there about the anxiety, and the fact that a lot of our institutions are not functioning the way they usually do,” Mr. Wexler said of the violence. “If it was just New York, I think that would be one thing. But because the crime increase in homicides is widespread, I think it says something bigger about what’s going on.”
Despite the violent summer, crime numbers in the city remained well below the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when New York saw more than 2,000 murders a year. Homicides and shootings have plummeted in recent years, even in some of the city’s most notoriously dangerous corners. Had 2020 not been such an anomaly, officials have said, that trend might have continued.
This year, as crime increased, the police solved less of it. Police Department records, for example, showed that officers solved 26.3 percent of serious crimes in the second quarter of the year; department figures show that 35.8 percent of serious crimes were solved over the same period in 2019.
“I think Covid played a role earlier in the year, where we had a significant amount of people out,” Commissioner Shea said, noting that in the early days of the pandemic when many officers became sick, entire teams of detectives filled in for other squads, often in unfamiliar neighborhoods. The clearance rate improved from 26.3 percent later in the year, he said, but still fell well short of 2019’s level.
Critics of the police have questioned whether officers, chafed by the summer’s unrest and the national debate over law enforcement, began responding more slowly to calls. But some experts say much of the department’s low clearance rate is tied to difficulties caused by the pandemic — officers cannot interact as widely with the public, and most people, including criminals, are wearing masks.
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