WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The NYPD says shootings and murders are up in New York City. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the easy access teens have to guns is law enforcement's biggest challenge.
Vance said the recent arrest of one 20-year-old who had sold 25 illegal guns since the summer underscores a troubling trend.
"In the first 11 months of this calendar year, 240 defendants were indicted by the Manhattan DA's office for possessing loaded guns and of these 240 defendants, 58 of them, or 24 percent, were 18-years-old or younger," said Vance. "These are young adults who should be in school, not with their gun in their hands headed for prison or an early grave."
According to court documents, in the spring of 2010 the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD began a joint investigation into firearms trafficking by 20-year-old Juan Rivas.
Between June 2010 and November 2010, Rivas allegedlly sold a total of 25 firearms on 16 different dates to an undercover detective for more than $25,000. Some of these deals went down in Manhattan, the Bronx and Yonkers.
The firearms Rivas sold included five .380-caliber semiautomatic pistols, two .40-caliber semiautomatic pistols, one .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, one .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol, seven .38-caliber revolvers, two .32-caliber revolvers, one .22-caliber revolver, two shotguns, and four 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistols, one of which was an assault weapon. Fourteen of these firearms were sold loaded and two of them were defaced, with an attempt to remove the gun’s serial number.
Rivas was hit with a 69-count indictment for conducting illegal gun sales in and around the Bronx, Yonkers and Manhattan. The indictment follows a long-term investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s Violent Criminal Enterprise Unit and the New York City Police Department’s Firearms Investigation Unit.
“Despite having some of the strongest anti-gun laws in the nation, our City continues to see the devastating consequences of gun violence,” said District Attorney Vance. “These illegal guns could have been used to kill, maim, injure, or threaten, but now they are permanently off our streets."
Vance said getting illegal guns off the street has to be law enforcment's top priority. The city-wide murder rate has gone up by 13 percent on average, but is still dramtically lower than where it was 20 years ago. However, the latest trend troubles law enforcement. In most Manhattan precincts, the murder rate is flat or lower than last year's, but in four Manhattan precincts, the increase is in the triple digits, with one in northern Manhattan posting a 500 percent spike in murders over 2009.
In addition to stepping up community outreach, the NYPD continues to promote a gun buy back program. This weekend, the NYPD and two central Brooklyn churches will host a gun buy back.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says such programs have resulted in getting 6,000 guns off the street this year. The Department has also seized close to that same number city-wide over the same period.