New York will declare a gun violence “state of emergency” as part of a new initiative aimed at addressing the surge in shootings that has accompanied the pandemic.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the “first-in-the-nation” executive order during a speech at John Jay College on Tuesday, laying out a new seven-point state strategy “to do with gun violence what we just did with COVID.”
The disaster declaration could free up funding and expedite programs intended to reduce shootings, including a summer youth employment program that would create up to 21,000 jobs. As part of the $138 million investment, the state will also expand a hospital-based violence interruption program and create a new state police unit to intercept guns smuggled into New York.
Other planks of the governor’s strategy remained vague, including treating gun violence like a public health problem, demanding more data from police departments on shootings, and “strengthening police-community relations.”
“This is not normally a state role, this is not what we do,” Cuomo said. “But these are not normal times, and the state can bring funding and intensity and attention and support.”
The executive order came hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea touted new crime statistics showing a drop in shootings and murders last month.
The NYPD recorded 165 shootings and 33 murders in June, compared to 205 shootings and 43 murders in the same period last year — a hopeful sign that the spike in gun violence over the last year may be receding as the city emerges from the pandemic.
“We started to reverse the trend that we’ve seen since last May, which is increased gun violence,” Commissioner Shea said on Tuesday. “I’m not happy with that current level, but it is progress, and that’s what matters here.”
The toll of gun violence remains well above pre-pandemic levels. The first six months of this year saw 765 shooting incidents and nearly 900 victims — more than double the amount in the first half of 2018 and 2019. There have been 217 murders this year, up slightly from 2020, and putting the city on track to see the highest murder rate in a decade.
Experts have largely blamed the increase in shootings — which mirrors a nationwide trend — on the destabilizing impact of the pandemic. Many of the city’s low-income communities that were hardest hit by the pandemic have also suffered from the highest concentration of violent crime.
“The stressors of COVID-19 go beyond economic loss to include widespread loss of life and loss of community,” Daniela Gilbert, the director of the Redefining Public Safety program at the Vera Institute of Justice, told Gothamist. “The networks of support that mitigate [these] harms were frayed.”
At his press conference, Governor Cuomo said that the increase in violent crime during the pandemic had threatened to stall New York’s resurgence.
“People are not coming back to this city, they’re not coming back to any city, until they know they are safe,” he said.