Photo via Flickr user Stephanie Richard
When a man attacked three people with a machete outside of a Dominican restaurant in Queens early Sunday morning, at least there seemed to be a motive. New York City police say chief suspect Guillermo Torres was jealous because the men were talking to his girl.
The same can't be said for several of the instances of blade-related violence that have darkened what has otherwise been a relatively safe year in New York City. Although a healthy chunk of the over 900 knife-related attacks so far in 2016 have been connected with domestic violence, it's the ones that occur seemingly without rhyme or reason that have people on edge. In January, at least six people were slashed on the subway, and the first few months of this year have seen local media outlets freak out about attacks inside restaurants, outside hospitals, and in the middle of the street.
On Tuesday, NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded to knife fear. As part of a new operation helpfully dubbed "Cutting Edge," officers will be deployed to hotspot locations and will track the incidents separately from other felony assaults.
This is basically a test of the city's predictive policing program, which was launched on a pilot basis last summer and is all about using the numbers to deploy cops smartly. As Politico reports, Commissioner Bratton thinks this micro-targeting strategy—which expands on longstanding initiatives like COMPSTAT that closely track crime data—is the future of American policing. For example, because the numbers say slashings are most likely to occur between 7 PM and 4 AM on Fridays and Saturdays, more officers will be posted up outside of nightclubs and bars.
It will be difficult for the NYPD to "eradicate" the knife attacks, as Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday suggested was his plan. After all, the weapons used are often legal household items like boxcutters, kitchen knives, and screwdrivers; to that end, a Bratton deputy suggested local stores selling boxcutters will see some fresh scrutiny.
"They're a constant in our lives," Bratton said at a knife-focused press conference Tuesday. "They're everywhere. They're everywhere. So somebody in a moment of passion, domestic violence, dispute with a neighbor. There is a ready instrument available."
While it's unclear what exactly is driving this statistically curious and anecdotally disturbing spike in knife violence, it could, perversely, be used to slow police reform. After stop and frisk was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013 because it unfairly subjected minorities to random checks, the NYPD massively curtailed the practice. But according to research from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, city cops confiscated nearly 47,000 knifes with the legally problematic tactic between 2003 and 2012.
De Blasio and Bratton—who both like to say stop and frisk is largely in the rearview—may see that stat thrown at them as they continue to contend with knife panic.
"The NYPD backed itself out of an important tool by over-using SQF [stop, question and frisk] in the prior years—all for CompStat numbers," Joseph Giacalone, a former NYPD detective sergeant and adjunct professor at John Jay College, told VICE in an email. "Now, that could have been a tool to mitigate these incidents. From an investigation standpoint, there is no discernible pattern to analyze. They are acts of random violence that have caused concern amongst the train riding public. "
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