Sun, May 6, 2012
Brooklyn has the rest of New York City outgunned.
Law enforcement data indicates that the borough has a disproportionately large number of the city’s guns. It’s a tough statistic to nail down, says Rory O’Conner, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the ATF’s New York Field Division. Due to the large numbers of unregistered and illegally purchased guns, he says, “it’s obviously impossible to give an exact figure.”
But overall, law enforcement recovered nearly twice as many guns in Brooklyn as in any other New York City borough in 2010—1,614 guns were recovered in Kings County that year, according to data released by the ATF. While that number decreased to 1,469 in 2011, according to the NYPD, this number remains proportionally higher than other boroughs. These totals include those guns recovered via stop-and-frisk as well as arrests and other means.
In an effort to get illegal guns off the street, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD have employed two major campaigns—one that many people love and another one they hate. Gun buy-back events held by police have earned praise and support from local clergy, citizens, and politicians. The other method, “Stop-and-Frisk,” has infuriated many and drawn criticism from government officials—including State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who recently began examining the policy for signs of racial bias.
The Brooklyn Ink analyzed gun recovery data for a perspective on the unique set of costs and benefits associated with both stop-and-frisk and the gun buy-back program.
While nearly 1,500 guns were recovered in Brooklyn last year, only 300 were recovered via stop-and-frisk—and it took nearly a quarter million stops for police to pick up those 300 firearms.
There were 228,354 stop-and-frisks in Brooklyn alone and 685,724 stop-and-frisks citywide in 2011, according to the NYPD data provided to The Brooklyn Ink by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Of the people stopped and frisked in Brooklyn last year, only 0.13 percent of all of them were carrying a gun, a recovery rate that continues a largely stable trend seen in data over the last decade, according to NYPD data provided by John Jay College’s Center for Race, Crime and Justice.
While Brooklyn is the city’s largest borough—home to 31 percent of the city’s population, according to 2010 census data—it still has a slightly larger ratio of guns recovered per capita by borough. In 2010, Brooklyn had 37 percent of the guns recovered citywide. The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island meanwhile had a combined stop-and-frisk gun recovery rate of 0.11 percent.
That’s 13 guns for every 10,000 people frisked in Brooklyn, and 11 guns for every 10,000 frisked outside of Brooklyn.
From an efficiency perspective, this is what bothers many stop-and-frisk critics.
“The issue with stop-and-frisk is that the number of guns that are confiscated during that procedure is so miniscule compared to the number of people that are stopped, questioned, frisked, and had their liberty interfered with,” says Professor Jones-Brown, founder of the Center for Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College.
“One of the big issues is, if police seem to be doing better with the buy-back programs, why do they continue to interfere with so many innocent people—people who are not carrying guns?” Professor Jones-Brown asks.
Since the gun buy-back program began in October of 2008, the NYPD has recovered 7,642 guns citywide, with 2,442 collected in Brooklyn alone—an average of more than 600 guns a year in Brooklyn.
It is true that the NYPD gun buy-back events bring in far more guns in far less time, but it comes at a price. The amounts offered have varied slightly, but anyone willing to return a handgun typically walks away with $200 and those surrendering a shotgun or rifle get $50. In a series of six Saturday events in 2009, the city shelled out $637,572 dollars for 3,551 guns—about $180 a gun.
Despite the hefty price tag, some would say that the gun buy-back program gives the NYPD more “bang for its buck” than stop-and-frisk. And while putting a dollar amount on the time and resources spent to employ the stop-and-frisk policy is difficult, measuring the political capital spent in continuing the controversial program seems simpler.
This calculus is not lost on Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. He was not always supportive of stop-and-frisk himself.
The New York Times reported that Kelly publicly criticized stop-and-frisk tactics back in 2000, saying that they “sowed new seeds of community distrust” and said that the community policing programs in the mid-nineties had been abandoned too soon.
But in recent years, the commissioner has been a staunch advocate for stop-and-frisk. And while Kelly has also regularly praised the buy-back program, Capital New York reported that he seemed to belittle it in a heated exchange this March. In the City Council meeting, Kelly defended the use of stop-and-frisk to Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, and questioned what leaders in communities of color were doing to stem violence, adding, “What is their tactic and strategy to get guns off the street? Don’t tell me ‘a gun buy-back program.’”
Police insist that they must employ a variety of strategies to eliminate illegal firearms in New York City and routinely point to the city’s illegal gun market as a source of violence.
The Brooklyn Gun Market
Even as law enforcement and city officials remain locked in a bitter debate over stop-and-frisk, there’s a 38 caliber Smith and Wesson for sale somewhere in Brooklyn—only $600. Black market gun dealers feed demand for illegal guns by smuggling them into the city as they have for decades, says ATF Agent Rory O’Connor.
They buy from gun stores in Pennsylvania and other states with more relaxed gun laws down the I-95 corridor and drive them into Brooklyn. So while O’Conner says the source of guns is outside the city, “New York is a market area.”
“Say an undercover agent is going to negotiate for a pistol from a bad guy in the street,” the agent explains. “It’s probably going to be like 500 dollars—500 to 700 dollars for a handgun, for a pistol, for a revolver.”
Automatic pistols are the most recovered firearms from criminals, according to ATF statistics, with 2,497 recovered citywide in 2010. While the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver remains the single most recovered make of gun, only around 180 were recovered in New York.
“On the street a revolver is looked at like an antiquated piece, as opposed to a glock pistol,” because there’s a certain “sexiness” associated with semi-automatics—likely from being featured in films and video games, O’Conner says.
So far, there have been 128 shootings in Brooklyn in 2012, according to crime tracking website SpotCrime. Last year, there were 138 in Brooklyn during the same timeframe and 300 in 2011 overall. The NYPD reports that there were 298 homicides by gunshots citywide in 2011 and 119 in Brooklyn alone—nearly 40 percent of all shooting deaths in New York City. The Bronx was the second-most-lethal borough with 94 deaths or 31 percent of the city’s total shooting deaths.
Police haven’t escaped the danger either—eight NYPD officers have been shot in the last 5 months.
And while federal agencies like ATF continue to run undercover operations to eliminate small arms dealers selling out of the trunks of their cars, local law enforcement continues their own efforts to seize those illegal guns that do end up in New Yorkers’ hands.
But law enforcement has no illusions about the scope of the problem.
“What we do, what the local police do, its effective,” says ATF agent Rory O’Connor. “But its not going to stop the problem of illegal handguns. They’re going to be used in crime.”
This story is part of a series of stories that focuses on the less economically vibrant parts of Brooklyn. For more, check out the rest of our Under the Radar series.