New York City for many years was among the most violent cities in the country. The most populous city in the United States, it would not be surprising that it had a crime rate commensurate with the size of its population. Even beyond problems traditionally associated with large urban environments, especially those with economically and ethnically diverse demographics, New York was plagued by violent crime involving firearms. In the early 1990s, city officials decided to address the problem of gun proliferation through a multi pronged strategy. The rallying cry of "get the guns off our streets" sent a message to the city's vast population that the police would be empowered to go after illegal firearms while providing incentives to draw out even legally-owned firearms.
One of the main components of the New York Police Department's strategy for reducing the number of guns on the city's streets was a buy-back program. Under this program, anybody could turn in a gun or guns, no questions asked, and be paid cash in exchange. This strategy successfully removed a large number of guns from the streets. It was not sufficient, however, to fully address the challenge. Mayors and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also put into place a policy of targeting guns in the hands of gang members, the main category of criminal in New York responsible for a preponderance of gun violence. A special 200-member police unit was established with the mission of focusing on removing guns from the streets. Special courts were also established to adjudicate the cases of those arrested on gun-related charges. These courts had a mandate to hand-out particularly severe sentences in the cases that came before them.
The net result of the NYPD's strategy has been a marked decrease in gun-related violence across the city. The department has been aided in its mission by its use of the CompStat information technology system, which enables analysts within the department to focus on neighborhoods and communities where violent crime is most prevalent.
The NYPD's policy of removing guns from the streets was a vital element in the city's strategy for reducing violent crime. And, it has been successful. To the extent weaknesses remain, however, they originate in the gaps in the city and the state's ability to control the flow of guns across its borders from other states. It is difficult to get guns off the streets when they are as accessible as they are in other states.