The First Glock To Enter New York.

Sometime in 1983 or 1984 I went to the Kingston, NY gun show with two NYPD gun-nut buddies, Don and Jack. We drove up from ‘da city,’ parked outside the Kingston Armory and spent the next 3-4 hours playing with hundreds of guns, talking to other gun nuts like ourselves, and having a good time.  In those days the Kingston gun show was known as a show where buying a gun and doing any kind of paperwork was considered a contradiction in terms. As for the cops, they could also ‘buy on shield,’ which meant you flashed a badge, gave the guy the cash and you got the gun.

logo glock              At some point I came across a gun I had to have. It was a 4-inch, nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Model 58 revolver, the heavy N-frame gun which shot the 41-magnum load. The 41 mag was and is a great round – not as much kick as the 44 but a real slammer nonetheless. And this gun was really mint.  I counted out $400 bucks as quickly as I could.

Now I’m walking down the aisle, Jack comes up to me, grabs the S&W blue box out from underneath my arm, puts his hands on the Model 58 and says, “I gotta have this gun!”  So we made a deal right there. He gave me what I paid for it and promised that when we got back to New York he would sell me his NYPD black leather duty jacket for $50 bucks. The cops were in the process of shifting from leather patrol jackets to the ugly, crummy velour jackets which they wear today. I think my daughter still has the leather jacket which I got from Jack.

Anyway, so now I’m walking around the show looking for another gun. All of a sudden I’m standing in front of another dealer’s table and there’s my Model 58. What the f—? The dealer said the gun would cost me $400 bucks so I ended up buying the Model 58 twice. (About a year later I traded the 58 for a Colt AR with a full-auto sear courtesy of a guy I knew who worked in the Colt Custom shop on Huyshope Avenue in Hartford, but that’s another story for another time.)

A few minutes after I repurchased the 41 magnum, here comes Jack down the aisle with a couple of other NYPD gun-nuts in tow. They are all handing a gun from one to the other, telling Jack that they don’t believe he got the friggin’ gun, Jack’s standing there basking in the adoration of his friends.

The gun was a semi-automatic pistol, it didn’t have a hammer, the finish looked painted on and was black rather than blue. The grip was some kind of plastic and the slide had these big letters: G-L-O-C-K. I had never seen a Glock before, never held one, never knew there was a pistol that held 16 rounds. And that’s why Jack dumped the Model 58 because he bumped into ‘some guy’ who had walked into the show with this Glock.

Of course Jack’s great joy at being the first member of the NYPD to own a Glock only lasted a week, because when he took the gun down to the License Division to register it (the NYPD required that the guys register all their-personally owned guns, but didn’t have to say exactly how they acquired their guns) he was told that he couldn’t keep a Glock within the city limits because it was a ‘plastic gun’ and would be a security risk if Jack wore the gun when he went through a metal detector in order to testify in Court.

So Jack told Mrs. Skeba (who ran the License Division and nobody messed with Mrs. Skeba) that he would give the gun to ‘brother-in-law’ who lived somewhere out in Jersey near the Woodbridge Mall. And that’s how the first Glock to be registered in New York City quickly came and quickly went.

The world has changed, hasn’t it?

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Why Shouldn’t I Drive Around In An Armored Car?

I was a college student in New York City during the halcyon days of the anti-War movement, when there must have been a demonstration against the Viet Nam war every week in Central Park.  And while on occasion the demonstrations turned a little nasty, meaning a few “f— you’s” exchanged between the kids and the cops, I don’t recall that anything much happening as we tramped around the Sheep Meadow or listened to Dave Dellinger make a speech at the 68th Street Mall.

It therefore came as a big surprise when, many years later, I was given a tour of the warehouse that was part of the Central Park Police Precinct of the NYPD.  Because sitting in the warehouse was a phantasmagoria of dusty and rusted military equipment – flak jackets, gas-masks, helmets – that could have outfitted the entire 102nd Airborne, never mind a bunch of cops who spent most of their time running over to Lexington Avenue to get doughnuts and coffee for “the guys.” My tour guide, who was a former Commander of the Precinct, told me with a chuckle that the equipment had been stockpiled during the 1960’s just in case any of the anti-War protests got “out of hand.”

mrap               That was then, this is now.  A report  in The New York Times, based on documents from the Department of Defense, indicates that police departments around the country,  are once again building up caches of equipment that was purchased by our military for use in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but is now considered “excess” and if not purchased or given away to domestic customers would likely be thrown out or destroyed.  You would think that police departments, all of whom always operate on shoestring budgets, would jump at the opportunity to grab free equipment that they really need, even though  there will still be costs for maintenance  and repairs. But some of the items that are ending up in the motor pools and storage rooms of the cops can’t possibly have anything to do with carrying out traditional ‘serve and protect’ functions of the local police.

Among other items, the DoD has given out more than 430 MRAPs to police departments in more than 40 states.  What’s an MRAP?  It’s an armored vehicle designed to be resistant to land mines and other anti-personnel weapons or IEDs that played such havoc with our troops when we first invaded Iraq.  Now I can understand that police in southern border states like New Mexico might feel more secure patrolling territory frequented by Mexican drug gangs, but could someone please explain to me why the cops need to ride around in an armored-plated vehicle in a town like Neenah, Wisconsin, whose 25,000 inhabitants located on Lake Winnebago haven’t seen a homicide in five years? And don’t tell me that the Neenah Police Department considers itself on the front lines of defense against terrorism because that statement was actually made in public by the sheriff of Oxford County, Maine, who justified the acquisition of a MRAP because of the possibility of “unimaginable terrorist threats.”

Let me tell you a little bit about Oxford County, Maine.  It’s a hilly and largely forest-covered area which contains about 8 families per square mile.  Any terrorist who wants to sneak into the United States by crossing the border from Canada into Oxford County will find that they will face a much bigger problem from the moose and the bears than from the sheriff’s deputies riding around in their MRAP.

Peter Kraska, who has been studying police and, in particular the development of SWAT teams for more than twenty years, notes that while these para-military units first started out by adopting and popularizing military jargon, are now increasingly adopting military equipment, weapons and tactics and have seen their largest growth in small and medium-size departments, many of which are actually dealing with less crime and violence than before their SWAT team was even deployed.

All of this, it seems to me, comes back to the degree to which some Americans seem prone to accept the notion that more armed force on our streets and in our homes can make us safer from terrorism and crime. And if the cops feel more comfortable tooling around in a MRAP whether they need one or not, who’s to say that some enterprising entrepreneur won’t soon deliver one customized for civilians as well? I can already see the discount coupon for such a vehicle tied to the next email from the NRA.

Is New York City A Crime-Free Zone?

The news at the end of 2013 was remarkable- New York City once again led the nation in the lack of violent crime. And while violent crime has continued to show a decrease throughout the United States, the numbers in New York appear to be exceptional.  In a nutshell, violent crime fell roughly 50% between 1994 and 2000 in the country as a whole, but in New York the decline has continued, with numbers for 2012, particularly homicides falling to levels not seen since the Beatles got off their plane.

To understand the true nature of New York’s crime decline, however, we have to look at the data not at the citywide level, or even the borough level, but at the neighborhood level itself.  Because there is an enormous variation in crime rates throughout the city, and this variation extends to differences within the boroughs as well.  Let’s look, for example, at Brooklyn.  The area known as Brooklyn Heights, which faces Manhattan from across the Eastern edge of the harbor, registers crime rates as low as can be found.  Last year there was one homicide in this area whose population was around 50,000; walk a mile into the Fort Greene neighborhood, an area with the same number of residents, and the homicide total last year was 6.  The homicide rate in New York was slightly more than 4, in Brooklyn Heights it was 2, in Fort Greene it was 12.  Fort Green had an average of 4 homicides each year between 2009 and 2012. The city had the overall lowest number of homicides in 2013 since the end of the Korean War, but some kind of war is still going on in Fort Greene.

Brownsville - East New York. Picture by author.

Brownsville – East New York. Picture by author.

If you go around the city with a map in one hand and the NYPD crime data in the other, an interesting profile begins to emerge.  Neighborhoods that were at the two extremes – richest and poorest – back when crime numbers began falling after 1994, appear to have changed little since that time.  The city’s wealthiest neighborhood, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is largely vertical in terms of residential architecture, has little street life, even less commercial activity, and experiences very little crime. The poorest neighborhoods, with the exception of public housing projects are for the most part architecturally horizontal, have little street life, even less commercial activity and experience lots of crime.  While crime has decreased in inner-city neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York, rates for every category of serious crime are four to five times higher than the city as a whole but the lack of population density masks these numbers when they roll up within citywide numbers as a whole.

Upper East Side - Manhattan

Upper East Side – Manhattan

Where neighborhood profiles and the crime rates have changed most dramatically is in areas that have either gentrified, such as the former meatpacking district in Manhattan, or the great swatches of real estate now occupied by “new” immigrants in The Bronx, Brooklyn, and most notably, Queens.  These populations, who at last count spoke more than 700 different languages, now account for more than 40% of the city’s total population, the first time that such a high percentage of foreign-born have been living in New York since before World War I.

Many of the areas now occupied by new immigrants were former working-class and middle-class neighborhoods whose previous residents fled the city in droves during the economic and fiscal downturn of the 1970s, or held second-generation Americans whose idea of capturing the American dream meant moving out to the ‘burbs.  But the new immigrant populations appear eager to stabilize their urban neighborhoods and their decision to re-urbanize what otherwise might have become more inner-city ghettos is what has driven down the city’s rate of crime.

Between 1970 and 1990 the city lost more than one half million residents.  Between 1990 and 2010 New York made up the entire deficit and added 300,000 more.  Without understanding how this ebb and flow of the city’s population changed the character of neighborhoods in every borough, discussions about crime border on the unreal.  We can talk from today to next year about policing, stop-and-frisk strategies, arrests and everything else, but we should always be mindful of this comment by Jane Jacobs: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace – sidewalk and street peace – of cities is not kept by the police, necessary as police are.  It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”