On a recent Saturday night in Midtown Manhattan, a delivery man left the restaurant Famous Amadeus Pizza near Madison Square Garden and got on his bicycle intending to deliver a pie. Instead, he ended up in the hospital.
The trip was cut short when he nearly careened into a pedestrian, prompting a heated argument that led to the delivery man getting stabbed in the armpit and slashed across the face. He was "cut up pretty bad and blood was running down his face," one of his coworkers said.
That was just one of 916 stabbing incidents citywide that New York City police have investigated so far in 2016 — a 22 percent increase in knife-related crime over the first three months of last year. Of those 916 incidents, 23 were apparently "random," where people were accosted with little or no warning as they were on their way to work, taking a Saturday afternoon stroll, riding the subway, or having dinner.
New York's tabloids have whipped up hysteria around the random slashings, but NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has insisted that there's no pattern to the attacks and no cause for concern. On Tuesday, however, the NYPD unveiled "Operation Cutting Edge," a new initiative designed to tackle the uptick in knife crime across the city. The department also recently ordered 3,000 new pairs of slash-proof gloves for its officers.
While gun violence in the city is generally linked to gangs and organized crime, Bratton noted at a press conference on Tuesday that there is no core group that appears to be responsible for the majority of stabbings and slashings. "We are identifying the common denominators with increased incidents, focusing closely on the when and where aspects of these crimes," Bratton said, adding later that "stabbings and slashings are more often the result of personal adverse encounters with strangers, disputes, street fights or domestic incidents."
According to the commissioner, about half of the 916 incidents occurred outdoors. He also said that about a third of incidents were domestic violence related.
"Operation Cutting Edge" will rely on data from CompStat — a police tool that tracks information about crimes — to tease out patterns between the attacks. Using that information, Bratton says the NYPD will ramp up police presence in apparent slashing hotspots, including at 20 nightclubs. New York cops also have a new mandate to confiscate knives, razors, box cutters, and other edged weapons from subway riders. In the first three months of the year, officers took 212 blades away from people, a 46 percent increase over last year, according to CBS New York.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that 23 percent of slashings take place on the weekend, between 7pm and 4am. "[These slashings] occur at a point in the week when an unusual number of people are out," de Blasio said. "Unfortunately, a number of them are under the influence of alcohol and drugs."
"It points to the specific problem of people getting into altercation and disagreements around nightlife," the mayor said, referencing incidents at both "legal nightclubs and illegal social clubs."
Bratton has consistently expressed his displeasure at the fact that the uptick in knife crime has overshadowed the drop in shootings, which were down 3 percent last year. At a press conference last month, the commissioner asked reporters when they last wrote about gunfire. "Shootings and murders are down, but you've lost interest in that," he said.
He didn't miss an opportunity to hammer this point home again on Friday. "You're well aware in the media that your primary focus in years past has been on the homicide and shooting events in the city, but those events are now at historic lows," he said.
Bratton also reminded people that only 2 percent of stabbings take place on the subway system. "There is an apparent public perception that the transit system was being plagued by a sudden epidemic of random attacks," he said. "Nonetheless since perception sometimes becomes reality, we've taken measures to address the issue."
Watch former New York police commissioner and convicted felon Bernie Kerik discuss criminal justice reform with VICE News: