08/30/2012 04:59 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2012

New York's New Gang Problem

Lost in the "stop and frisk" debate and the recent increase in crime in our city is the glaring fact that gangs have made a comeback in New York and they are responsible for the recent rash of shootings on playgrounds and basketball courts around the city.

New York is at risk of becoming a gang war town like Los Angeles was a decade ago and Chicago has become in the last two years. Gang violence in those cites has reversed two decades worth of decreasing crime and it's beginning to happen here in our own backyard.

Take Brownsville, Brooklyn, the subject of a recent investigation in the New York Daily News, where guns and crime are now crippling that neighborhood. Kids are getting shot on the basketball courts and a 2-year-old girl was recently wounded in a drive-by shooting. Mayor Bloomberg is right that we must get guns off our streets but he and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly are not focusing on the gang culture and policing techniques that were once effective in New York and elsewhere to combat them.

In the 1990s in New York, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, there was a special anti-gang unit in each precinct around the city. These SNEU (Street Narcotics Enforcement Units) were incredibly effective in becoming specialists in gang policing and were an important part of the NYPD's record-breaking decrease in crime in New York in the 1990s.  

I have heard stories of Commissioner Ray Kelly's anti-gang initiatives using social media to stop gang meetings and head off potentially violent situations. It is this kind of innovative policing that needs to be accelerated to combat the growing gang problem.

We must start to have a public discussion about New York's increasing gang activity. We cannot ignore that cutting back after-school youth programs, gutting funding for neighborhood recreation centers and allowing youth unemployment in minority communities to run as high as over 40 percent is a large part of the problem.

Proper policing is only one part of the solution. We must bring jobs and job training centers to neighborhoods like Brownsville and Harlem. We need to properly fund after-school programs in Crown Heights and Jamaica. We need to expand athletic and academic weekend programs at neighborhood community and recreation centers in places like Corona and Co-Op City.

Gang violence will escalate if we don't attack these social issues directly. And, in the meantime, we need the NYPD to be vigilant to protect our kids and our neighborhoods from gang violence.

Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly: gun control is extremely important. But gang control and jobs for minority youths are a much faster route to saving our neighborhoods and keeping our citizens safe.

Tom Allon is a Liberal-backed candidate for mayor of New York City.


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