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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After shootings, Eric Adams rushes to release safety plan

New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks at a vigil held for Catherine Ortiz, an 11-month-old baby girl who was killed by a stray bullet, Jan. 21, 2022.

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons

Mayor Eric Adams rode to office on a platform of bringing down crime in New York City. In his first weeks as mayor, that challenge has risen to meet him.

A woman was pushed to her death at a Times Square subway station. A baby was shot in the Bronx. A 19-year-old Burger King worker was killed during a robbery in Manhattan. Police officers were wounded in the Bronx, East Harlem and on Staten Island.

In each instance, Adams responded. He visited the mothers of those injured or killed; he rushed to city hospitals to check in on wounded officers; he has convened three anti-gun violence roundtables.

But the killing of a police officer Friday in Harlem has raised the stakes for the mayor, and has fast-tracked the timeline for him to do something substantive to improve public safety.

Acknowledging that gun violence was becoming a crisis in his young mayoralty, Adams said he would deliver a speech in the coming days to outline a comprehensive public safety plan.

“This is a sea of crime that is being fed by many rivers, and we have to dam each one of those rivers,” Adams said on CNN on Sunday. “These crimes did not start during my administration. They have been here for far too long in many parts of our community.”

The city was mourning the death of Officer Jason Rivera, 22, on Sunday, after he and another officer, Wilbert Mora, were shot Friday as they responded to a domestic incident. Adams joined officers to pay respects Sunday as Rivera’s body was brought to a funeral home in Manhattan.

Mora, 27, remained in critical condition and was to be transferred from Harlem Hospital to NYU Langone Medical Center on Sunday.

In 2014, the killing of two police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, deepened a rift between Mayor Bill de Blasio, Adams’ predecessor, and police; officers turned their backs on him during the officers’ funerals, and blamed him for fostering an anti-police atmosphere in New York.

Adams has spoken frequently about the 2014 killings of Liu and Ramos in Brooklyn, while Adams was borough president. He established a relationship with Liu’s parents; they endorsed him in the mayor’s race, and the officer’s mother appeared onstage with Adams on election night.

Adams, a former police captain, has a better relationship with the police and has more support among officers to enact his agenda, but he certainly understands the need to define his mayoralty before events define it for him.

Adams’ forthcoming plan, which he called a “Blueprint for Safety,” will examine the underlying reasons for violence and offer initiatives such as reinstating a plainclothes police unit, which was involved in a disproportionate number of fatal shootings, to address gun violence. The unit was disbanded under de Blasio after George Floyd’s killing in 2020. Adams also vowed to provide better outreach to homeless people on the subway, to try to stop the flow of guns into the city and to boost programs such as violence interrupters — mediators with direct experience of community violence — and job training for youth in high crime neighborhoods.

Asked how long it would take for New Yorkers to see results and whether it could be months or years, Adams said it should be sooner than that.

“I’m hoping it takes days if possible,” he said Saturday. “Listen, the one thing I can commit to New Yorkers: No one is going to work harder, no one is going to give more of themselves than I am as the mayor of this city.”

Already, Adams has received praise for showing up.

After Adams led a discussion on gun violence at an elementary school in the Fordham section of the Bronx, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat said Saturday that mayors rarely visited that neighborhood.

“This neighborhood is in high need of help and the mayor was here yesterday, and he’s here today and I was with him last night at Harlem Hospital,” he said of the hospital where Rivera was taken.

Questions over policing, homelessness and mental illness were front and center during the competitive Democratic primary for mayor last year. Adams criticized the defund the police movement and argued that he was the only candidate who could balance public safety and police reform. Other candidates took issue with Adams’ positions on the plainclothes unit and his comments that stop-and-frisk policing could be a useful tool in some cases.

Tiffany Cabán, a left-leaning new City Council member from Queens, said she was worried about the return of the aggressive unit.

“I’m deeply, deeply concerned that the mayor has expressed interest in bringing back the plainclothes unit, because the unit has done a ton of harm,” she said in an interview, adding that it was involved in high-profile police killings such as Eric Garner’s in Staten Island in 2014.

But she added that she “was also incredibly encouraged to hear the mayor talk about violence interrupters as being a central part oThe event in the Bronx on Saturday was in response to the baby who was injured in a shooting nearby, and scheduled before Rivera’s death. Adams sat with elected officials and anti-violence workers to discuss ways the city could better support them.

One worker told the mayor he had concerns about the plainclothes unit because many men in the neighborhood were carrying guns and might use them if an officer surprised them.

“Are these cops being trained on how to approach individuals or are they just jumping out?” he asked, noting that many officers were young, such as Rivera, and did not have a lot of experience.

Adams said he welcomed advice on training because he did not want officers “jumping out,” but he reiterated the need for plainclothes officers to keep bad guys on their toes.

“Policing is both omnipresence — the blue and white,” he said, “and it’s also unpredictable.”

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