Last week, the Manhattan DA’s office — along with its partners in the NYPD and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District — announced sweeping indictments against 24 alleged members of a violent criminal organization, charging them with numerous shootings, murders, drug trafficking and gunpoint robberies across Manhattan and the Bronx.
This week, the Manhattan DA’s office is partnering with CUNY’s Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) to award 10 community-based organizations with $20,000 each. These investments will engage young New Yorkers with supportive services and work in the community — methods proven to keep young people, and their neighbors, safe from gun violence.
While these two approaches are fundamentally different — the former a strong enforcement action and the latter a critical prevention strategy — both are essential to stop the swell of crime and gun violence that has plagued New York City, and the nation, since the pandemic began.
Enforcement is a blunt tool to stop known drivers of violence from continuing to harm the community. Last week’s gang takedown was just the latest enforcement action by DA Bragg. Our office has increased gun prosecutions by 26% this year compared to last — in many cases seizing guns from alleged domestic abusers. The office has secured indictments against alleged traffickers bringing firearms from North Carolina and individuals accused of shootings on our streets and subways. Each successful case holds accountable someone who would otherwise endanger our community, and hopefully brings some sense of closure for victims and their families.
While we have more work to do, as of early August, homicides in Manhattan are down 12.5% this year compared to last, and shootings are down almost 20% — outpacing declines citywide in both categories.
But enforcement alone won’t deliver the enduring safety we need. It must be paired with community partnerships to prevent violence upstream, provide support for victims of crime, and help those leaving incarceration thrive and avoid returning to jail.
In New York City, the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII) is an invaluable violence prevention strategy that complements the work of police, lawmakers and district attorneys. Created by the Manhattan DA and administered by CUNY ISLG, this pioneering program channeled hundreds of millions of dollars seized from illegal bank activity into a series of community-based, sustainable solutions for safer neighborhoods. Taken together, CJII provides a comprehensive blueprint to lift people up — and catch them before they fall.
The new youth violence prevention initiative unveiled this week is a powerful example. Specifically designed for neighborhoods in Manhattan with high levels of gun crime, it will serve young people ages 15-to-26 years old who have the highest risk of either committing a gun crime or falling victim to it.
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Participants will be paid to engage in behavioral therapy, job training and educational advancement — activities that provide both immediate support and pathways to long-term success. Others will be hired to beautify and improve public spaces historically plagued by gun violence.
Research shows that community gardens and other physical upgrades in “hot spots” like vacant lots or certain street corners can reduce gun violence nearly 30%. So can public art, like murals that call for peace or memorialize those who have been lost. Through it all, the grants will also deploy credible messengers who can connect with at-risk young people more successfully than traditional authority figures, because they have gone through similar life experiences.
These grants will empower young people with a sense of their own positive potential, and they send a message that is both basic and profound: Investment in underserved communities is essential to public safety. This is the core of the mission at CJII, which since 2014 has funded 52 individual programs and served more than 32,000 people.
On any given day, CJII is supporting young people aging out of foster care prepare for adulthood; connecting transgender survivors of violence to affirming medical and mental health services; helping those re-entering society find a job and health care; and establishing nurturing places where young people can connect with supportive services, from a doctor’s visit to hot meals.
Such investments in community wellbeing and grassroots violence prevention are especially crucial now, when crime concerns top public discourse.
Drivers of violence must and will be held accountable today. But preventing other young people from taking their place tomorrow on the path to violence and prison is the only sustainable way to deliver both safety and justice to our communities. Government and private sector funders at all levels would be wise to scale up these solutions to make our communities safer. We will continue to bring to justice those who commit violent crimes, but we all agree that a crime prevented is always better than a crime prosecuted.
Bragg is the Manhattan district attorney. Jacobson is the founder and executive director of the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance