City rethinks approach to gun violence

By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Posted 1/20/21

On Tuesday, January 12 key stakeholders met for a press conference to call for more help from the community to reduce gun violence in the City of Newburgh, following a weekend with 28 shots fired. …

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City rethinks approach to gun violence

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On Tuesday, January 12 key stakeholders met for a press conference to call for more help from the community to reduce gun violence in the City of Newburgh, following a weekend with 28 shots fired. Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler announced two initiatives: spring and summer gun buyback programs and a $5,000 reward for information on gun trafficking and illegal guns that lead to an arrest.

Hoovler claims that the police enforcement have done everything they can, which have shown some progress in the city. He reported that the number of shootings and homicides in the state of New York jumped to 82 percent between 2019 and 2020. During the same time period, the City of Newburgh saw shooting victims decreased by 13 percent and the number of shooting homicides declined by 66 percent. Hoovler said this is thanks to not only the local police department, but initiatives like Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE), which “uses several strategies to combat violence in the city,” a state-funded non-fatal shooting initiative which took place over the last several years and because of the “blue-grey” detail where New York State police came to the city over the summer.

“Their results were staggering,” said Hoovler about the blue-grey initiative. “They made over 200 arrests, obtained multiple guns and lots of drugs. As a result of that, we were able to keep the violent crime rate, and particularly the shootings, down.”

Hoovler said while there has been some success in curbing gun violence in the city, it hasn’t gone far enough.

“We have sort of come to a point where law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office enforcement action has taken us to the point that we can probably go no more with it,” said Hoovler. “We need more help from the community.”

He said that Newburgh makes up 7 percent of Orange County’s population, but makes up almost 50 percent of the violent crime.

“We have a reoccuring factor that occurs in all of those cases,” said Hoovler. “In four out of five witnesses that are interviewed, that are talked to regarding cases that have substantial information about the case – four out of five refuse to cooperate with the police.”

In other words, 80 percent of the time they aren’t getting the information they need that would allow them to keep the city as safe as possible.

What the law enforcement does know is that the vast majority of the guns are coming from the south and are being possessed illegally. Hoovler included that the handguns that are recovered are “expensive.” With the guns finding their way to Newburgh, Hoovler said it shows that there is a demand in the city.

In 2020, they recovered over 68 firearms – making up for almost 70 percent of the total amount of guns that were recovered in Orange County.

A Call for Community Intervention and Partnerships

“Imagine what we could do if we got the help,” said Hoovler. “I’m asking and I’m pleading to the community to come forward. Tell us where the guns are coming from. Tell us who’s involved in the shootings. Cooperate with the police who are investigating violent crimes and you will see even greater results.”

Also at the press conference was Newburgh Police Chief Arnold Amthor, who also called for community intervention.

“I hope that people step up when they’re supposed to and assist us in investigating these crimes and other people that are out there – groups like SNUG and other interested groups who want to come and help can certainly be a part of the equation as well,” said Amthor. “I’m committed to that aspect equally as well as the law enforcement aspect.”

SNUG, or guns spelt backwards, is an organization that takes volunteers and workers into communities to prevent shooting and violence within a community. The SNUG program is supported by Regional Economic Community Action Program (RECAP) who “develops and implements risk-reduction strategies to reduce gun involvement with the goal of saving lives and helping individuals turn their lives around.”

Mayor Torrance Harvey also expressed his support in more community-based initiatives to help with the city’s rise in gun violence.

“When we talk about law enforcement, we are 110 percent on board with law enforcement – we know they will do an excellent job, and will continue to do so,” said Harvey. “But as the District Attorney mentioned, there has to be community buy in.”

“We have to take a stand as a community,” continued Harvey. “We truly need a ceasefire in the City of Newburgh now.”

Harvey described the importance of reimagining how the issue of gun violence is approached, including the importance of partnerships with organizations like SNUG and a newer one, Ruff Ryders to the Rescue.

“We’re trying to get people in the community so we can know and understand your needs,” said Harvey.

Ruff Ryders to the Rescue approached Harvey over a year ago to discuss how they could provide a community approach to the issue at hand. During the Monday, January 11 council meeting, Ruff Ryders to the Rescue presented to the council what they could provide for Newburgh.

The Mount Vernon based group is proposing a 24-hour community watch program in Newburgh. It’s mission is three-fold: “to support urban community programs that provide innovative, measurable programs that can be replicated in urban communities, to be a visible, reliable presence in the community, and to develop leaders who will have an indelible, positive impact on society.”

Joaquin Dean, CEO of Ruff Ryders to the Rescue, told the council that the program would train interrupters who would go into the community where “most won’t dare,” collaborate with other street outreach programs and be credible messengers for the community.

“We want to bridge the gap between the streets, the industry and the politics,” said Dean. “All three elements that we feel are really effective in the community.”

Each council member expressed their interest in the partnership with the Ruff Ryders to the Rescue. A few of Ruff Ryder’s vehicles are at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, showing more of their interest.

“They can get into the community and acclimate themselves and start recruiting people to become credible messengers,” said Harvey at the council meeting.

Amthor also said he is also interested in partnering with Ruff Ryders.

“We have to work together, be innovative and open our minds and be willing to look at a multitude of ways to address this problem,” said Amthor at the council meeting about the rise in gun violence. “Working with a group like this I think it could certainly be incorporated into the strategies we have at this time.”

It’s very similar to the Brooklyn based Guardian Angels, who came to Newburgh about ten years ago and have now fizzled out.

Multi-faceted Approach, Including Offering Youth Programming

Beyond collaborating with SNUG or Ruff Ryders 2 the Rescue, people are calling for more youth programming to get them off the streets.

Also at the press conference was Jeanette Drake and Rhonda Valentine, mothers of Tabitha Cruz and Omani Free, victims of gun violence in Newburgh.

“We need something for these kids to do in Newburgh,” said Valentine. “We need boots on the ground, but we also need something for these kids to do.”

The Boys and Girls Club relaunched its STAR program over the weekend to provide youth between the ages of 13 and 21 a place to go and enjoy events like spa nights, movie nights and more. It will be open on Fridays from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on Saturdays from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. The Newburgh Armory Unity Center also offers a number of different programming to keep the youth involved.

To report gun trafficking or an illegal firearm, call the district attorney’s anonymous tip line at 845-291-2106.

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