WHENEVER New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams extolled
the virtues of freedom and democracy while visiting the Soviet Union
in recent years, he would always get questions about urban fear of
crime. "The Soviets would say, `But aren't many people prisoners of
their apartments or communities?' " He says the question is becoming
much more difficult to answer.
Those listening to his words - several hundred Manhattan
residents gathered on 47th Street in the shadow of the United
Nations for one of the city's several rallies at the Aug. 7 National
Night Out Against Crime - understood perfectly.
A recent surge in random gun violence in New York City that has
resulted in the deaths of five children and injuries to two others
in recent weeks has heightened citizen concern and bolstered the
city's determination to fight back. City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer
spoke for many at the rally in insisting: "We're not going to let
criminals take our streets and parks away from us."
New York City ranked a relatively low 13th on a per-capita basis
among the 25 largest cities in the most recent Federal Bureau of
Investigation national crime report. Yet in total crimes, New York
continues to be No. 1. The number of murders, which reached 1,905 in
1989, is this year already more than one-third higher than the
figure at this time last year. Just during the last week of July
police received 1,745 reports of shots fired.
Of greatest concern to most New Yorkers is the random nature of
much of the crime, its incursion into once-safe neighborhoods, and
the casual use of guns to solve every dispute. Last week a fast-food
worker in Brooklyn was shot dead when he asked a patron to pay for
his chicken dinner. Many New Yorkers also feel that too many
criminals get off too easily. "Certainty of punishment is much more
important than its severity," says Dr. Mitchell Moss, director of
New York University's Urban Research Center.
Mayor David Dinkins has now heard the grass-roots message loud
and clear. He had pledged during his campaign to be "the toughest
mayor on crime this city has ever seen." Yet for budget reasons he
had delayed hiring new police recruits. However, in early August the
mayor announced that money would be found in service cuts to hire an
extra 1,058 officers next spring. The city police force numbered
31,700 in 1970 but is now less than 26,000.
Police Commissioner Lee Brown, Houston's former chief of police,
has said the city needs 5,000 more police. …