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ALBANY, N.Y. – A surge in gun violence across cities in New York led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency Tuesday.
The move, which Cuomo called a disaster emergency, means New York can bolster its law enforcement presence in cities where the shootings are on the rise and put additional state resources in crime-ridden areas, he said.
Additionally, he said, the state will establish a new gun violence prevention office within the state Health Department, require police agencies to better report where the shootings are happening, and establish a council on gun violence reduction.
The Democratic governor said the state's future depends on its ability to curb gun violence, noting it largely hits communities of color and calling it a "statewide problem."
"This is the state when we see an injustice, we don't look the other way. We stand up and fight it," Cuomo said in a speech at John Jay College in Manhattan.
Cuomo's announcement, which comes with $139 million in state aid for the various initiatives, comes amid a surge nationwide in gun violence. President Joe Biden has called for a national crime prevention policy to cut down on shootings.
In New York, shootings in major cities were up 40% last year compared with 2019 as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, state data showed.
Cuomo said more people died from shootings in New York over the July Fourth weekend than of COVID-19 – 51 shooting deaths compared with 13 COVID-19 deaths.
The problem is found in New York City as well as upstate and suburban cities. Rochester on pace for a historically deadly year, with 38 homicides this year. The latest was a 16-year-old boy on Sunday; the city's worst year for homicides was 1993, when there were 70.
Nationally, homicides are up 18% year-over-year in major U.S. cities, and that's after 2020 brought the largest single-year increase ever recorded, according to the national data site AH Datalytics.
The increase in shootings comes as other crimes such as rape, robbery and larceny are down, with statewide totals last year at their lowest since at least 2015, records show.
Cuomo said the goal is to focus on the hot spots for shootings and to develop new job training programs to help communities out of poverty.
"You know where it's coming from. You know where you need to go," Cuomo said.
Cuomo said New York would invest $57 million in job development programs.
Cuomo displayed maps showing that only small parts of cities in New York are where most of the homicides are. He cited state statistics that showed about 4,000 people ages 18 to 24 accounted for 49% of the cities' shootings.
He said the state would boost state police efforts to fight illegal guns coming into New York in coordination with neighboring states and said he would sign a bill into law that makes it easier to sue gun manufacturers.
A larger goal, Cuomo said, will be to rebuild the relationship between the public and police, which has been strained by police brutality cases.
New York last year required all police departments to develop reform plans, and Cuomo said he would issue an executive order to prevent police officers from joining new departments after being ousted from another.
In Yonkers, 26 people were shot last year – the most since 28 were injured by gunfire in 2017, data shows. Cuomo said shootings were up 38% in New York City.
Cuomo said people would not come back to cities, particularly New York City, if they do not believe communities are safe to visit and work.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday recognized the increase in shootings and murder in recent months, but he said the city is seeing improvement: Shootings were down 20% in June compared with the same period in 2020.
"Look, we have a long way to go, but we saw some real progress," de Blasio said, citing expanded police efforts and reforms.
"All of these pieces are starting to work together."
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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This article originally appeared on New York State Team: State of emergency declared in New York due to surge in gun violence