Teens cuffed for string of Canarsie robberies, NYPD commish says reforms needed to tackle youth crime

nypd commissioner keechant sewell said reform is needed to curb youth violence
The 69th Precinct announced on Tuesday that three teens were arrested in connection with a string of robberies in Canarsie – but police commissioner Keechant Sewell says reforms are needed to truly curb youth crime.
File photo by Paul Frangipane

Three teens have been arrested in connection with a string of robberies in Canarsie, raising concerns over an uptick in youth crime in southern Brooklyn. 

The Canarsie area has seen a drop in crime of late, but not when it comes to robberies. The area has experienced a 33% increase in reported thefts over the last year — according to the latest police data, there have been 12 reported robberies so far in 2023, up from nine for the same period in 2022. .

Finding ‘drivers of violence in the community’

Deputy Inspector Khandakar Abdullah, commanding officer for the 69th Precinct, told residents at the monthly community council meeting on Tuesday night that his officers were able to attribute a recent rise in local robberies to a group of teens who attended a school on the South Shore High School campus, resulting in the arrest of three individuals.

police at canarsie precinct meeting on youth crime
Officers with the 69th Precinct have arrested three teens connected with a string of robberies in Canarsie, but cops and Commissioner Sewell say reforms are needed to curb the increase in youth crime. Photo courtesy NYPD 69th Precinct/Twitter

Abdullah said the arrests were made thanks to the community outreach strategies employed by officers of the 69th Precinct, adding that “these are partnerships that we’ll need going forward to help troubled kids”. He said further names of persons of interest, who he described as “drivers of violence in the community,” were recently given to the District Attorney’s office for further investigation.

He went on to praise the work of officers for the drop in other serious crimes such as rape, murder and shooting incidents, saying the decrease was thanks to “dedicated men and women of the 69th Precinct” who had made “quality” arrests, targeting hardened criminals, gang members and repeat offenders. But, he told community members that it wasn’t enough that reported crimes are statistically low.

“It comes down to you feeling safe in parks, on the street, shopping and every other area where you go to live your life,” Abdullah said.

Sewell says state laws must be reformed to curb youth crime

Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell told those gathered at the Jan. 31 meeting that the “Raise the Age” statute was hindering the NYPD’s response. 

When it comes to gun-related offences, Sewell acknowledged that a significant issue facing the NYPD is the increase in shootings carried out by teenagers — especially since they’re often shooting other young people. According to data obtained by the New York Post, youth involvement in shooting incidents  — as perpetrators and victims — has risen by over 70% since 2017. 

Passed in 2017, the RTA statute raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Under the law, all 16-and-17-year-olds who commit non-violent crimes have their cases heard in Family Court and receive intervention and evidence-based treatment as needed, rather than being tried in criminal court as adults. 

Cops are dealing with “chronic recidivism across the city”, according to the commissioner, who argued that the state’s Raise the Age laws have impacted how the force can tackle youth crime.

“We are arresting the same people over and over again for the same crimes because of well intentioned reforms to being able to address certain disparities. But I think the pendulum has swung in the direction that we need to move it back,” said Sewell. “I don’t think anybody in this room wants a young person to be penalized for the rest of their lives for a mistake that they made as a child or as a young adult or teenager. But we have seen some very concerning numbers in 2022 and beginning in 2023 when it comes to violence involving our teenagers.”

She called for the community to come together to show young people that there are reasons why people join gangs: “There’s a sense of family there. We have to show them another sign that there is another way to do this.”

Last summer, local advocates called on Mayor Eric Adams to fund community-based anti-violence groups after 14 people were shot in the 69th Precinct in the first six months of the year. Leaders said a fully-funded Cure Violence site in the nabe was “long overdue.”

youth explorers at precinct council meeting on youth crime
Sewell touted the NYPD’s existing youth programs, including Youth Explorers. Several members of the 69th Precinct’s Youth Explorers group attended the Jan. 31 meeting. Photo courtesy of NYPD 69th Precinct/Twitter

“Grabbing a firearm should be like grabbing the third rail in this city and it’s not, and we have to make our children understand that that is absolutely unacceptable that you pick up a firearm,” Sewell said. “But we have adults handing these kids firearms because of RTA, because they don’t face the same circumstance that an adult would. They do get to go to family court.”

District Attorney Eric Gonzales, who was also in attendance, said he supported the Raise the Age statute but, conceded he supported reforming the act in some capacity: “There are things that I think needs to be corrected and fixed to make sure that we’re protecting our community”.

When asked by a community member what measures are in place to stop young people getting involved in crime at a young age, Sewell said that criminal justice should be balanced with community outreach and youth-focused programs. She touted the NYPD’s existing programs, including Youth Explorers, which gives students between 14 and 20 an introduction to a career in law enforcement.