2007-11-30 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Criminals Seen On Both Sides Of The Weapon
Commentary By Howard Schwach

A recent New York Times story about homicides in New York City bears out something that covering the crime beat in Rockaway over the past eight years has taught me time and time again.

In the majority of cases, there are no good guys involved. In fact, the Times' statistics bear out, in seven out of 10 homicides in New York City, both the victim and the perpetrator have criminal records.

In Rockaway, that statistic is probably much higher, perhaps approaching totality, although there have been some murders that were not gang or drug related, but very few.

The NYPD began announcing homicide statistics in 1963. Statistics prior to that year are considered unreliable because many homicides were not recorded until an arrest was made and the case was closed. That year, however, the police department began to record them as they occurred, as they do today.

In 1963, slightly more than 500 homicides were recorded in New York City.

Homicides reached their peak in 1990, when 2,245 were reported. In the great majority of those murders, the victim was unknown to the perpetrator, part of the random drug violence that was wracking the city.

The numbers began to drop the following year, and the downward trend continues today.

In 2006, there were about the same number of homicides as there were in 1963, just over 500.

This year, however, through November, there have been just 428 homicides and if that number holds, there will be fewer than 500 in the city for 2007.

The fact that the number of murders has continued to fall is not the only startling statistic taken from the New York Times report, however.

An analysis of about half of this year's homicides shows that only 35 of them were committed by strangers, something the Times says is "microscopic in a city of more than 8.2 million."

The statistics become even more revealing when you break them down further.

Of the 212 murders where relationship data was available, a friend or acquaintance committed 125 of them. Add to that the fact that 16 victims were killed by a boyfriend or girlfriend, that 11 were killed by a parent and that 6 were killed by a common law spouse, of the 212 murders, nearly 160 of the 212 murders were committed by somebody the victim knew.

Of the 412 homicides so far this year (up to November 18), 317 of the perpetrators and 288 of the victims had criminal records.

The majority of those who had records (51 percent of perps, 48 percent of the victims), had drug records. Eleven percent of the perps and 8 percent of the vics were gang members. More than 10 percent of both groups were on probation or parole at the time of the homicide.

Think about those statistics when you think about the safety of living in Rockaway. They make Rockaway look relatively safe, as long as you have no criminal record and don't do drugs. How about that for a cautionary tale?

The data seems to prove my contention that virtually 100 percent of those involved in homicides in Rock- -away over the past year fall into the gang-related, drug-related, knew-eachother categories.

Take a look, for example, at the spate of murders at the end of last year.

On November 27, 16-year-old Christopher Glenn, a Beach Channel High School student, was shot and killed at the Ocean Bay Houses. While it is not clear whether or not Glenn was involved in gangs or drugs, he certainly had ties to people who were involved in gangs, including his neighbor, Laton Spurgeon, who was then killed in December. The following week, Sashawn Simpson, 15, a suspected gang member, was arrested for Glenn's murder.

On December 15, Cedric Smalls, another known gang member, was shot down in front of 81-03 Beach Channel Drive, in the Hammel Houses.

On December 21, Laton Spurgeon, Glenn's next-door neighbor, was murdered in front of his brother's home in Wavecrest. Spurgeon was a known gang member with many arrests on his record. Police speculated at the time that both murders were part of a drugrelated gang war between the Bloods and a small Rockaway gang called Get It In Bricks (GIB), centered at the Hammels Houses.

On December 27, a gang member known on the street as "Psycho," winged four shots at cops who were looking for him in connection with the Smalls murder.

On January 27, Andrew Smalls, Cedric's brother, was arrested for killing Spurgeon. Police said at the time that Spurgeon was killed in retaliation for the killing of Cedric Smalls in mid- December.

In early February, 42 people were arrested at the Hammels Houses, including five who were identified as Bloods gang members and nine who were identified as GIB members.

In addition, Ramel Sanders, 15, described as a known gang member, was arrested for shooting Glenn.

In June, a rising rapper who used the stage name of Stack Bundles, was killed in the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway. This is one of the few cases where, authorities say, there was no drug or gang connection. It was thought that Bundles was killed because gang members thought that he was "becoming too big."

The following week, the man thought to be responsible for the murder of Bundles was found dead in an abandoned Springfield Gardens home.

In July, reputed gang member Ronnie Smalls, aiming at a rival gang member, missed and hit a 14-year-old girl who was sitting in a playground at the Hammel Houses. The teen survived.

It goes on and on.

This year has been a quieter one in Rockaway in terms of homicides.

The 100 Precinct in Rockaway Beach had 2 homicides in 2006. So far, this year, there has been one, a gang and drugs related shooting.

The 101 Precinct in Far Rockaway (the dividing line between precincts is Beach 58 Street) reported seven murders last year. So far this year, there have been only four, all gang or drug related. Why does the murder rate continue to fall to record lows?

I have my own ideas about that question. I believe that aggressive policing is the answer, and that aggressive policing requires both racial profiling and lots of "stop and frisk" activity.

That's what stops crime.

As a retired teacher with 33 years of experience, I could walk into a school cafeteria, look around and "know" where the problems were going to occur simply by observing the students and their behavior. I learned that the hard way, with lots of hard knocks and experience.

Police are the same way. They often "know" when a person is carrying a weapon by the way they walk or hold themselves. Police should be able to stop and frisk when their experience tells them that a person is carrying a weapon or is about to commit a crime.

The concept of "probable cause" should be expanded to allow that police activity. It's the police that stand between us and the anarchy of the drug and gang culture.

They should be allowed to do their jobs.

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