‘No. 1 priority’: NYPD busts gangs in push to curb violence

January 4, 2022 GMT
Police officers listen to a briefing before a raid in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. New York City police arrested 17 suspected gang members Tuesday in early morning raids across Brooklyn, removing from the streets what investigators said were violent thugs responsible for some of the Big Apple's pandemic-era surge in shootings and homicides. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Police officers listen to a briefing before a raid in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. New York City police arrested 17 suspected gang members Tuesday in early morning raids across Brooklyn, removing from the streets what investigators said were violent thugs responsible for some of the Big Apple's pandemic-era surge in shootings and homicides. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Police officers listen to a briefing before a raid in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. New York City police arrested 17 suspected gang members Tuesday in early morning raids across Brooklyn, removing from the streets what investigators said were violent thugs responsible for some of the Big Apple's pandemic-era surge in shootings and homicides. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Police officers listen to a briefing before a raid in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. New York City police arrested 17 suspected gang members Tuesday in early morning raids across Brooklyn, removing from the streets what investigators said were violent thugs responsible for some of the Big Apple's pandemic-era surge in shootings and homicides. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Police officers listen to a briefing before a raid in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. New York City police arrested 17 suspected gang members Tuesday in early morning raids across Brooklyn, removing from the streets what investigators said were violent thugs responsible for some of the Big Apple's pandemic-era surge in shootings and homicides. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — One suspected gang member was wanted for killing an 18-year-old college freshman as he ran from a bodega. Another was accused of wounding a college student while shooting at a gang rival.

The Associated Press got a rare, firsthand view Tuesday as New York City police officers conducted early morning raids across Brooklyn in their fight against a pandemic-era increase in gun violence and homicides.

In all, police say 17 suspects were charged in crimes including 14 shootings and four deaths. Nine of the victims were bystanders not involved in any gang rivalry, police said. One victim, a 20-year-old woman visiting from Virginia, was killed by gunfire at a birthday party.

Those arrested ranged in age from 17 to 23, but authorities said some had been as young as 14 when they got involved in the criminal conspiracies covered by the charges. Five are still under age 18.

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“That’s my child!” a woman screamed as she saw one of the suspects being led down a sidewalk in handcuffs, past a community garden and put into an unmarked police vehicle in front of an elementary school.

Police said the suspects were members of one of three gangs that aligned to grow territory and punish rivals. Some of the suspects boasted about their exploits on social media and made posts directing others to commit violence, police said. Some of the shootings were captured on surveillance video.

In one bust in sub-freezing temperatures, officers in NYPD windbreakers converged on an apartment building in a public housing complex in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood around 5 a.m.

Some officers climbed to the roof and pointed flashlights at the suspect’s window while other officers went to his door. One officer said knocking usually worked just fine, but a colleague carried in a sledgehammer just in case.

Within minutes, officers had three people in handcuffs.

Among them, two 17-year-olds: One charged with attempted murder in a September shooting in downtown Brooklyn that left a New York University student wounded in the arm and the other charged with murder in connection with the 2020 bodega shooting that killed 18-year-old Sherard McKoy.

The suspects were expected to be arraigned starting Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn. Online court records did not list lawyers who could speak on their behalf.

Eight people were arrested in busts at other locations, police said. Four were already in jail on other charges. Two were in a juvenile detention facility. All arrests were made without incident, police said.

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, sworn in on Saturday, was briefed Monday on plans for the bust and said in an interview that she expected to see “significant results” from investigations that began on the watch of her predecessor, Dermot Shea.

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New York City has been wrestling with a spike in violent crime since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. After reaching a record low 292 homicides in 2017, the city hit 468 in 2020 and more than 480 last year. At the same time, shootings have surged, with more than 1,500 each of the last two years, according to police data.

Still, New York remains far safer than in the early 1990s, when there were more than 2,000 killings per year, or even through most of the decade after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The No. 1 priority is to get this violence down,” NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig told officers before Tuesday’s arrests.

Deputy Chief John Chell, the commanding officer of the Brooklyn North Detective Bureau, said previous busts resulted in a drop in violent crime in neighborhoods where disrupted gangs operated.

Chell said the police department executes busts like the one on Tuesday about two or three times a year.

“We’ll throw a wide net, we’ll take a global view of all the violence and we’ll narrow it down and then we go for the worst,” Chell said. “We go for the trigger pullers, the kids, the gang members that are doing the shootings, and that’s what we did today.”

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak