District Attorney spars with NYPD over increase in northern Brooklyn shootings

This just in-ternship: High-school students can now apply to intern with District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office this summer.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Tensions are flaring amid Kings County law enforcement, as police brass blame District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for an uptick in gun violence in some parts of the borough — despite a Brooklyn-wide decrease over last year.

The fuse ignited at a Manhattan press conference on July 8, when Chief of Department Terence Monahan blamed Gonzalez for failing to keep gunmen locked up.

“We’re getting the guns off the street. We’re upping gun arrests. What we need is that after that gun arrest is made, that person stays in jail,” he said. “When we look at Brooklyn — for the gun prosecutions — it has the least amount of time of any of the boroughs in the city, per gun conviction.”

According to Monahan, shootings in Brooklyn North — a designation that includes Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York, among others — have increased from 79 to 101 year-to-date.

And the chief aimed his criticism specifically at the Brooklyn prosecutor’s youth diversion program, where offenders between the ages of 14 to 22 who plead guilty to weapons-possession charges can partake in a 18- to 24-month educational program as an alternative to incarceration.

“[This year] out of 158 guilty pleas on gun indictments, 30 percent — or 47 cases — will be dismissed or sealed due to a diversion program,” he said. “I don’t believe that 30 percent of every gun arrest, where a cop puts his life on the line to take a gun off the street, should have their case sealed.”

Monahan gave two examples where police were forced to arrest convicts enrolled in the DA’s diversion program on subsequent firearms charges.

“Two of the individuals who were put into the program were re-arrested shortly thereafter with guns,” he said.

A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office disputed Monahan’s statistics, and said they’ve accepted 429 gun-possession guilty pleas since 2018, with only 11 percent — or 55 cases — resulting in defendants being admitted to the diversion program.

The program has been linked to an improvement in public safety, according to a spokesman, who noted a direct correlation between enrollment in the DA’s diversion course and the borough’s safest year on record.

“[The program] has been utilized by the Brooklyn DA’s Office for over a decade, corresponding with a steady decline in shootings, which reached a historical low in 2017, the year with the most diversion admissions to date,” he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed into the discussion on Monday, siding with the Police Department’s concerns about the diversion program for gun convictions.

“It’s been an ongoing conversation with district attorneys since the beginning of this administration — we need them to be resolute in gun prosecutions,” de Blasio said. “I agree with Chief Monahan. The men and women of the NYPD put their lives on the line, and they get these guns off the streets. It’s supposed to mean something.”

The Mayor noted his support for criminal justice reform, but took exception with reducing sentences for those guilty of weapons possession.

“We should not confuse the goal of diversion — which, for nonviolent offences is a valuable tool that has allowed us to reduce our jail population and help people get back on the right track,” said de Blaiso. “But when a gun is in the equation… it’s a whole different ball game. When there’s a gun, there should be follow through by prosecutors.”

The DA’s spokesman hit back, arguing that the program — which applies only to those guilty of possessing, but not using, a firearm — allowed Brooklyn youth to avoid a future life-of-crime that awaits many ex-inmates.

“An analysis by the State’s Department of Criminal Justice Services found that only 7 percent of [program] graduates were convicted of a felony within three years — a much lower recidivism rate than that of their counterparts who were sent to prison,” he said.

The District Attorney’s office also pointed out that the program is applied borough wide — where shootings have decreased from 143 to 141 year-to-date — as evidence that Monahan’s attempt to link the uptick in shootings in Brooklyn North to the diversion program were counterfactual.

Rather than spend their time criticizing the program, the District Attorney’s office said the Police Department should focus on closing open cases.

“The real problem isn’t diversion, but the fact that approximately 67 percent of shootings and homicides in Brooklyn North remain unsolved, leaving violent individuals on the streets,” said the spokesman.

And, despite objections from Monahan and the Mayor, Gonazalez’s office plans to grow the program further.

“Given this record of success and enhanced public safety, we are investing resources on expanding and improving this program,” a spokesman said.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.

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