Gang Incidents Rise As Overall Crime Falls, Vallone Panel Told
The City Council Public Safety Committee, headed by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., heard testimony last week from police officials that although gang activities throughout New York City are under sharp scrutiny and police disrupt gang activities, gangs still remain a threat in certain communities.
The committee was told that although overall crime statistics show a sharp drop in recent years, gang-related incidents have gone up.
Summing up the testimony, Vallone (D-Astoria) observed: "It's clear that gangs remain a problem in our neighborhoods. While our police force has been able to keep a lid on this problem, we must keep a watchful eye to prevent these groups from endangering our youth and our communities. Gangs are more ruthless and dangerous than the days of The Warriors. We need to bring every resource we have to bear against them."
Vallone said that according to Officer Thomas Galati commander of the NYPDs Gang Division, 211 gang motivated crimes were recorded since January, compared to 170 committed during the same period last year.
Galati attributed the increase to an expanded police database which tracks gang activity, the lawmaker said. The database tracks member activities signs and clothing, allowing the cops to identify a wider scope of gang-related crimes.
Officials estimate that the number of gang members in the city grew from 12,000 to 15,000 over the last three years, Vallone said.
Galati testified that some gangs, such as the Latin Kings, show high levels of organization, taking part in sophisticated drug and human trafficking schemes.
Other gangs, like the Bloods, are often loose confederations of local youths. Gangs formed of new immigrants, particularly those from Latin American countries, have become more prevalent in Central and Western Queens, Galati told the panel.
The police department has developed new strategies to identify gang members and aggressively prosecute their crimes by strengthening relationships with district attorneys' offices and the Corrections Department.
Galati stated: "The department continues to develop innovative strategies directed at further reducing gang crime as well as overall crime.
"We believe we must remain focused and committed in order to insure progress in our efforts. With ongoing efforts to enhance lines of communication with other agencies locally and nationwide, as well as educating the community, we can continue our successes."
Vallone introduced legislation in 2003 that would make gang recruitment a misdemeanor. He also sponsored a resolution supporting legislation in Albany that would give police and educators more powers to crack down on gang recruitment in schools.
"Gangs are always changing and we must adapt to keep up," Vallone said. "We must give our police officers the tools they need to combat this threat before it becomes even worse."