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Remarks | Clergy Aid Reduction in Murder

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Commissioner Recognizes Clergy Coalition, Historic Reduction in Homicides


Good afternoon. I’m joined by Bishop A.D. Lyons of the First Baptist Church of Brownsville, Bishop Gerald Seabrooks of Rehoboth Cathedral, Bishop Willie Billups of the Faith, Hope and Charity House Of God; Bishop Cecil Riley, Freedom Hall Church of God (13 other Brooklyn clergy members follow). From the Police Department, I’m joined by Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, Chief of Community Affairs, Philip Banks; and Chief of Housing, Joanne Jaffe.

In 2002, New York City recorded fewer than 600 homicides for the first time in recent memory, down from over 2,000 murders a decade earlier. In every year since 2002, we have continued to drive homicides to below 600, to just over 500 last year. While that is a remarkable achievement – for which the clergy members here today share in the credit – 500-plus victims are nonetheless 500 too many.

As this board on my right illustrates, they were not just statistics. They were flesh-and-blood human beings, most of them young men of color.

In 2010, these prominent members of the Brooklyn Clergy with us today came to me and asked how they could help to address the problem. It’s no coincidence that in 2011 – for the first time in the history of the borough since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – murders in Brooklyn fell below 200.

It’s also no coincidence that after the Coalition’s formation, murder in Brooklyn North fell by 16% last year, almost four times better than the citywide average decline. The decline in murders among one of the groups that the clergy was most concerned about – young black men between the ages of 16 and 37 who live in neighborhoods where the Coalition churches are located – was even more promising, a decrease of 33%.

What did the clergy do?

For one thing, they sponsored six gun buy-back events in their churches since the Coalition was formed in 2010. That resulted in the surrender of 625 weapons. Each gun may well represent at least one life saved; guns that were not used to kill more young men, guns that were not available to kill police officers like Peter Figoski, or to severely injure officers like Kevin Brennan.

In another time, the Lord’s servants helped turn swords into plowshares. In this case, guns are melted down to make wire hangers and manhole covers.

After Detective Figoski was killed, Coalition clergy members joined with police officers to hold prayer vigils in the aftermath of that terrible loss. Our clergy partners also addressed roll calls to express their sympathies and their support.

The clergy members you see here also have been instrumental in an outreach effort to gang leaders to discourage criminal activity. That includes providing a job-assistance booklet produced by the police department. It contains practical information about job training, getting a driver’s license, etc.

I know Bishop Billups has been having one-on-one meetings with gang leaders, with the intention of bringing rivals together later this year to discuss how some of this senseless violence can be reduced.

The Coalition’s Grandmother Empowerment Program helps support those women who often are the sole caretaker for young men at risk. I participated in one of their meetings last Tuesday, and I can tell you they are coping with problems unimaginable to many, sometimes, through simple acts of kindness. For example, last month they sponsored a shopping trip for a mother who lost her son to gun violence.

Each week, the police department shares information on homicides and shooting trends in Brooklyn North with our clergy partners. Anyone who is on Shalawn’s mailing list knows that she faithfully keeps all of us up to date. If you have a message waiting in your inbox, odds are it’s from Shalawn.

Our clergy partners also addressed all of the hundreds of new officers assigned to Brooklyn North after their graduation from the Police Academy in December, to help them better understand the community.

Some of the initiatives I’ve mentioned are part of a 10-point program advanced by the Coalition that includes: 

1)      The information sharing I alluded to earlier;

2)      Town hall meetings and other venues to address community violence;

3)      Interactive sessions between clergy and police officers to promote mutual understanding;

4)      Clergy gang intervention;

5)      The empowerment of grandmothers in the community;

6)      Our series of gun buy-back programs in churches;

7)      Clergy ride-alongs with the police, so that community members get a better understanding of how officers work;

8)      A targeted “block improvement program,” in which volunteers are paired with officers on patrol to help address safety on specific blocks, particularly near houses of worship;

9)      Visits to the police firing range to give community leaders first-hand exposure to firearms training, as well as re-enactments of real-life confrontations police may encounter, and;

10)  Open house at NYPD precincts and other facilities.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to the other chart. It shows how much safer New York has become over the last decade. As it indicates, there have been 5,430 murders in the last 10 years of the Bloomberg administration, compared to 11,058 in the 10 years before that. That’s 5,628 fewer murders, or a reduction of 51%. That’s 5,628 lives saved, most of them, young men of color.

This is a remarkable achievement when you consider that the city’s population has grown by a million, and when you consider that the crime decline was accomplished with 6,000 fewer police officers than we had a decade ago. We see the decline as a validation of the totality of tactics and strategies employed by the Police Department to keep New York City safe. All of these measures, big and small, are worth it if they save just one life. But they have saved far more than that – thousands more.

Again, I want to thank our clergy partners for their dedication and continued good work. Now you’ll hear from Bishop Lyons – but before you do, I just want to present him with this recognition, which I’ll read in part: “With gratitude for your support of public safety and the Brooklyn Clergy-NYPD Coalition.”

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