NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a disaster emergency on gun violence for the state of New York Tuesday, a first-of-its-kind disaster emergency for the country.

“We have to get illegal guns off the streets and we have to get illegal guns out of the hands of people and we have to rebuild the community,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Treat it like a public health issue. We know how to deal with an epidemic and what we want to say is, we want to treat gun violence like we did with COVID.”

According to the governor, immediate efforts of the disaster emergency to quell the ongoing gun violence statewide will focus on the following seven key areas:

  1. Treat gun violence like the emergency public health issue it is
  2. Target hotspots with data and science
  3. Positive engagement for at-risk youth
  4. Break the cycle of escalating violence
  5. Get illegal guns off the streets
  6. Keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people
  7. Rebuild the police community relationship

According to officials from the governor’s office, this measure:

  • Officially declares gun violence as a disaster emergency
  • Requires Division of Criminal Justice Services to gather and share incident-level data from local police departments on gun violence
  • Creates an office of gun violence prevention to coordinate efforts and direct resources to emerging gun violence hotspots
  • Invests $138.7 million in intervention, prevent, and jobs programs to engage at-risk youth and get young people off the streets
  • Creates new state police gun trafficking interdiction unit to stop the flow of illegal guns into the state
  • Partners with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to strengthen police-community relations

The governor said the state’s plan to reduce gun violence includes both short and long term initiatives.

“Our strategy is two-pronged,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Long term, the solution is compressive, community-based prevention strategy so young people don’t get into this situation in the first place. They don’t arrive in a place of crisis, you don’t have the same level of violence and the same level of antagonism, and that’s from community-based services; that’s prevention, community development, housing, health care, and economic activity.

“But today, let’s focus on the short term because people are dying every day out there,” Gov. Cuomo said. “You know what the problem is, it’s a statewide problem and it is an emergency, and I want the people in this state to understand that. So today, New York is the first state in the nation to declare a disaster emergency on gun violence.

“So what does this do?” Gov. Cuomo said. “This executive order, it says to everyone in the state, I want you to understand the extent of the problem. I want you to understand how serious this is. It then also allows us to move even faster, and free up money and free up programs so we can get it on the street and we can get it on the street now.”

Across the nation, there has been an increase in violent crimes. The 72 largest cities have already seen a 17% increase in crime this year compared to last.

“We need to restore the relationship between the community and the police,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That is clear, it is time to do it.”

Rochester has already seen 38 homicides this year, according to the Rochester Police Department. In 2019, the city saw 32 homicides. In 2020, that number jumped to 52. 

The governor said 26 people were shot in New York City over the July 4th holiday weekend, adding that shootings in New York City are up 38% in 2021 compared to the first six months of 2020.

“2020, our issue was keeping people safe and everyone agreed to that,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Why? Because it was a matter of life and death. 2021, we’re post-COVID, but there’s still low tide; inequality, and it’s still a matter of life and death. We went from one epidemic to another. We went from COVID to the epidemic of gun violence and the fear, and the death, that goes along with it. It’s so bad when you look at the recent numbers, more people are dying of gun violence than of COVID.”

The governor said New York would undo some gun measures put in place by the Trump administration.

“The Trump administration was so pro-gun and they did insane things,” Gov. Cuomo said. “They said a person with an active warrant should be allowed to purchase a gun. We said that’s crazy, and today I’m signing legislation to close that Trump loophole: If you have an active warrant you cannot buy a gun in the state of New York, period.”

According to the governor, another new law will close a “officer misconduct loophole,” which he said will prevent officers who commit serious or criminal misconduct from server as officers in another police department. The governor said he would direct the State Division of Criminal Justice Services to issue new regulations to expeditiously implement the law.

The governor also called for changing how police respond to 911 calls.

“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We know what when all you have are handcuffs and a gun then the only thing that’s going to amount to is an arrest. That is what you have and that is all you can do — that does not work anymore in this society.

“911 calls are more diverse, they are mental health calls, they are family crisis calls, they are substance abuse calls,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Not everything requires handcuffs and a gun. There has to be a different approach to actually address those problems. We need more community based services on one hand and we need more responsive approaches to those 911 calls — that’s the essence of reimagining the police department.

“It is time we reimagine and reinvest, and we do it together,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We have to do two things simultaneously, we have to reform the police, but at the same time, we have to address gun violence. We have to do both at the same time, it’s not one or the other, because we’re losing too many young people out there every day.”

Other measures included in the state’s gun violence disaster emergency will include working with neighboring states to increase the monitoring of cross-border gun trafficking, increasing intervention services for younger people involved in violence, the reinstatement of the public nuisance liability for gun manufacturers and job placement services.

“We have job placement available, we can fund recreation services, we can fund intervention, we can identify the hotspots within the hotspots, but we need to do that on a community level,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work — we have the funding, we have the emergency declaration so we can expedite it, but we have to get to work and we need collaborators.”

The governor announced a state investment of $138.7 million to “keep kids and communities safe now, and show the nation how to end the epidemic of gun violence.”

“When the COVID epidemic hit, no one said we can afford to do this — nobody,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We spent billions of dollars buying masks, ventilators, this and that. Nobody said ‘oh we can’t afford to spend money on COVID.’ Why? Because it was a matter of life and death and when people may die, they say spend whatever you have to spend to keep people alive. But you know what, we’re in a new epidemic, and it’s gun violence, and you know what? It’s a matter of life and death also.”

The governor said elected officials from every city in the state should be making the reduction of gun violence a top priority.

“Gun violence and crime should be the top priority for every mayor in this state,” Gov. Cuomo said. It is a matter of saving lives, and New York’s future depends on it. People are not coming back to this city, this state, they’re not coming back to any city until they know they are safe.

The governor said that gun violence disproportionately affects Black and Latino communities.

“Gun violence discriminates,” Gov. Cuomo said. The way COVID discriminates, gun violence discriminates: 59% nationally are non-white victims. In New York state, 68% are non-white victims. In new York City, 77% non-white victims. Black people are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun violence than white people. Latinos are 3.4 times more likely than white people. Gun violence is a major civil rights issue.”

According to the governor, gun violence isn’t just a criminal issue, but also an economic one.

“When you look at the past, as crime goes up, people in cities goes down,” Gov. Cuomo said. “As crime goes up, the economy goes down. We have seen it. We have lived it. When you get a hold of crime, when you get a hold of gun violence, when that reduces, population increases, economic activity increases.”

The United States Attorney’s Office of Western District of New York met with Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley and Chief of Rochester Police Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan last week to use discuss use of federal resources to combat “violence, gun crimes, and homicides.”

The meeting took place Wednesday morning to discuss “how increased federal prosecutions and resources might help to address the problem (in Rochester) … so that we can fine-tune our federal strategy and response.”

Officials from the USAO said they will make the discussion public this week and a press conference is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

New York state’s new disaster emergency comes less than one month after the state’s COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted.

From the governor’s office

Deploying a Public-Health Approach to Gun Violence

The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be overseen by the New York State Department of Health and led by a Governor-appointed Gun Violence Prevention Coordinator who will coordinate an all-of-government approach to ensure that state and local programs are advancing unified gun violence prevention strategies. The office will include a task force of representatives from State agencies including the Offices of Mental Health, Children and Family Services, Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Victim Services, the Departments of Labor, Housing, Health, Corrections and Community Supervision, as well as Empire State Development, the State Police, Division of Budget, and others.

The Governor will also invite stakeholders to participate in a new Governor’s Council on Gun Violence Reduction to ensure coordination between the State, localities and community groups to address local needs. The Council will review current laws and local proposals for reform and will make recommendations for changes based on science and data.

Targeting “Hot Spots” Using Science and Data

As outlined in the Governor’s Executive Order, police departments from across the state will be polled weekly by Division of Criminal Justice Services for incident-level data on shootings so the new Office of Gun Violence Prevention can identify and track emerging hotspots and direct resources where needed.

As with COVID, the State will use a cluster-based strategy to contain and combat the epidemic and identify gun violence hot spots where clusters of shootings are driven by small numbers of people. Initial hot spots identified in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Long Island include just 4,090 young men aged 18-24 but account for 48.5 percent of recent gun violence in those communities. View maps here.

Investing Over $76 Million to Create Job Opportunities and Community Activities for Youth

The spike in gun violence began as COVID kept many young people out of school and work, and disruptions to social supports and services left at-risk youth without safe, productive places to go during the day. These disruptions have had a destabilizing impact, particularly on young people, leading to a rise in gun violence. Research has shown that summer job programs decrease the likelihood of involvement in violence by 45 percent.

To help get young people off the streets, the State will invest an unprecedented $76 million to create jobs and community activities for at-risk youth.

New York will fund over 21,000 jobs for youth this summer, with initial commitments to create jobs by UFT, 32BJ, the MTA, the Partnership for NYC, tech:NYC, the NYC Hospitality Alliance, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, Queens Chamber of Commerce and Staten Island Chamber of Commerce and the New York State Parks. Businesses are encouraged to make jobs available on the State’s website. Salaries for these job opportunities will be paid for by the State.

The State will also partner with the Consortium for Worker Education, the workforce development arm of the NYC Central Labor Council to provide new job training, training stipends, credentialing and placement in good-paying, long-term jobs for 2,400 young people who are out of school and live in the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence. 

In addition, the State will increase the funding available for sports, arts and recreational facilities for this summer. Prioritization for the additional funding will be given to programs within identified hot spot communities.    

More Than Doubling State Investments in Violence Intervention Programs

Violence intervention programs, which work with impacted communities to break the cycle of gun violence and retaliations, have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60 percent. The Gifford’s Law Center has pointed to New York State’s program at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx as a best-in-class model. 

The State will create a new hospital-based violence intervention program in hotspot communities, expanding the state’s Jacobi model where it is most needed. Hospital-based violence intervention programs have proven to be a successful model by enabling street outreach workers to respond to shooting victims directly, connect victims and their families to wrap-around support services, and deescalate conflicts and retaliation.

The State will also expand the successful SNUG Street Outreach Programs by almost 50 percent. The SNUG Street Outreach program is administered by the Division of Criminal Justice Services and utilizes credible messengers in the community to engage and mentor at-risk youth, host community events, work to steer young people away from gun violence, and respond to shootings to prevent retaliatory violence. Through the almost doubling of this program, the State is taking aggressive action to curb gun violence in the hardest hit communities.

Getting Illegal Guns off the Streets

While New York State has the strongest gun safety laws in the country, 74% of crime guns used in criminal activity across the state were purchased out of state. To combat the flow of illegal guns onto New York streets, the State will create a new Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit within the New York State Police. New York State will also work with other states in the region to share gun tracing data that can stop inter-state gun traffickers and straw purchasers from introducing illegal guns into New York communities.

Strengthening the Police-Community Relationship

Data shows that when community trust for the police is low, 911 calls and regular patrols decrease while gun violence and crimes rates increase. To build on the New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative that was established in June 2020 and requires police departments to create plans for reform at the local level, the State is announcing a new partnership with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to help select police departments that have implementation strategies for their plans and to develop standards for measuring progress. 

The State is also launching a new portal of statewide police reform plans to encourage jurisdictions to learn from each other. 
The Governor is also directing the Division of Criminal Justice Services to issue new regulations implementing a law signed by the Governor this year that strengthens hiring and background investigations standards for police officers and closes the police officer misconduct loophole by preventing officers who commit serious or criminal misconduct from serving as officers in another police department. 

Holding Gun Manufacturers Accountable

Under this new legislation, gun manufacturers cannot endanger the safety and health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing of the products they sell. The products can be considered a public nuisance even if the gun manufacturer did not purposely cause harm to the public. The Attorney General and any city corporation counsel can take action on behalf of any locality, as can members of the public, corporations and associations. Since 2005, a federal law called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has shielded bad actor gun manufacturers and dealers from most lawsuits. No other industry has this protection from liability for their products and practices, which has created a perfect storm of lax controls and inability to hold bad actors to account. This legislation will allow for a lawsuit to be brought in cases where reasonable controls and procedures are not in place, ensuring that responsible manufacturers and dealers will not be held accountable for the actions of criminal actors.

Preventing People with Outstanding Warrants from Purchasing Guns

The second bill prohibits the sale, purchase or transfer of firearms to anyone known to have an outstanding warrant for a felony or serious offense. It prohibits the buying, selling and gifting of guns if the buyer is known to have a warrant for a felony or serious offense. This bill was proposed as part of the 2021 State of the State.

In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice reinterpreted a gun purchase prohibitor of the National Instant Background Check System to include only those individuals who have fled from one state to another for the purpose of evading prosecution for a crime while subject to an active or imminent arrest warrant versus those subject to any arrest warrant. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State addressed this issue by prohibiting any person who is subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony or serious misdemeanor from being issued or maintaining a firearms license, which is necessary to purchase a pistol or revolver. This legislation builds on that action, allowing these types of arrest warrants to once again be entered into the NICS database as a state-specific prohibitor, whether the individual has fled New York State or not, ensuring that those individuals wanted in New York for a serious crime cannot acquire new guns.

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This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.