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NYPD-ATF Partnership To Target Illegal Guns To Try To Reduce Gun Violence

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Several cities across the U.S. have seen a sharp rise in shooting incidents. Today, the White House announced that federal strike forces are going to partner with local police to deal with this in five cities, including New York. But how should communities that have strained relationships with law enforcement deal with gun violence? Some activists in New York say more policing is not the right answer. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: On a summer evening recently in Queens, N.Y., several dozen people gathered on the street. Birthday balloons tied to a railing floated in the hot breeze. This would have been Justin Wallace's 11th birthday. He was shot and killed a few days before.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATHERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Where do we go from here?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Where do we go from here? I could not even imagine.

GARSD: The question asked by these antiviolence activists is one that's on many people's minds. Gun violence is a real problem in New York. The city has seen a 73% rise from May last year. But so is distrust of the police.

So where do we go from here? A few days after Wallace was killed, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered one answer - a partnership between NYPD and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL DE BLASIO: We're going to have ATF agents directly embedded in the NYPD working together.

GARSD: And certain NYPD detectives will have federal agent privileges, which raises concerns for some.

MELISSA MOORE: We should absolutely not be giving more power to the NYPD when they've shown time and again that their response can't be trusted and that they operate with impunity and a lack of transparency.

GARSD: Melissa Moore is New York state director of the Drug Policy Alliance and a police reform advocate. Moore says money should be getting pumped into community services, violence prevention. NYPD disbanded its plain-clothes team, which targeted violent crime, about a year ago amidst widespread protests. Some say that's precisely why there are more shootings. Thomas Abt, New York's former deputy secretary for public safety, says they're both right.

THOMAS ABT: I am concerned that as rates of violent crime increase, there will be pressure to engage in the indiscriminate tactics in the past that weren't particularly effective.

GARSD: Still, he says a partnership between NYPD and ATF could be very useful.

ABT: But we have to understand that it's not just about the supply of guns. It's also about the demand for guns.

GARSD: Pastor Gil Monrose worries about that demand part. We walk through the Kingsborough Public Houses in Brooklyn, which last year saw several killings. He points to a group of young men hanging out in the courtyard. He wishes they had a community center, an activity to go to.

GIL MONROSE: These young people, what do they do? Where do they go?

GARSD: Monrose heads the God Squad, a group of clergy who mediate neighborhood tensions. He says he's bracing for that maddeningly hot New York weather that makes beefs simmer and, historically, shootings rise.

MONROSE: I'm worried about this summer, and I'm worried about every day.

GARSD: Further down the road, we run into resident Tonya Mabry, listening to music on a massive portable stereo with her niece.

MONROSE: What's up? How are you? You're good?

TONYA MABRY: Yeah, yeah.

GARSD: Mabry is a third-grade school teacher. She's aware of the rise in shootings.

MABRY: Gangs, gangs, territory - when it gets hot, for some reason, people get - they get crazy.

GARSD: She's also very wary of a police force that she says has often handled this entire neighborhood like it's a threat.

MABRY: This is not a neighborhood to come in to be afraid of. You have to know how to respect and approach people.

GARSD: For communities like these sandwiched between an uptick in violence and a police force they feel has targeted them, the question of the summer remains - where do we go from here?

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF GABRIELLE CHILLMARK'S "FOREST AIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.