Cuomo declares gun violence in New York a disaster emergency

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the first-in-the-nation executive order, declaring gun violence in New York a disaster emergency.

The executive order will allow the state to address the gun violence crisis by providing the necessary resources to combat the issue, the governor said. The seven-point plan includes $138.7 million in intervention, prevention, and jobs programs to engage at-risk youth and get young people off the streets.

"If you look at the recent numbers, more people are now dying from gun violence and crime than COVID," Cuomo said Tuesday. "This is a national problem but someone has to step up and address this problem because our future depends on it."

Thirty-eight people have been murdered in Rochester so far this year, surpassing the city’s yearly average for homicides.

Cuomo said immediate efforts to stop the ongoing gun violence statewide will focus on the following seven areas:

1. Treat gun violence like the emergency public health issue it is

The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be overseen by the New York State Department of Health. A task force of representatives from various state agencies will work to ensure that state and local programs are advancing unified gun violence prevention strategies.

2. Target hotspots with data and science

Cuomo said police departments from across the state will be polled weekly by the Division of Criminal Justice Services for incident-level data on shootings so the Office of Gun Violence Prevention can identify and track hotspots and direct resources where needed.

Initial hot spots include New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Long Island. View maps of hot spots here.

3. Positive engagement for at-risk youth

According to the governor’s office, summer job programs decrease the likelihood of young people being involved in gun violence by 45%. To help get young people off the streets, the state will invest $76 million to create jobs and community activities for at-risk youth.

Businesses are encouraged to make jobs available online. Salaries for these job opportunities will be paid for by the state. Locally, RochesterWorks! participates in the New York State Summer Youth Employment Program.

4. Break the cycle of escalating violence

The state will create a new hospital-based violence intervention program in hotspot communities, which Cuomo says enables "street outreach workers to respond to shooting victims directly, connect victims and their families to wrap-around support services, and deescalate conflicts and retaliation."

5. Get illegal guns off the streets

Despite New York having the strongest gun safety laws in the country, the governor’s office says 74% of guns used in criminal activity were purchased out of the state. To combat this, a new Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit within the New York State Police will be created.

6. Keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people

Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that prevents anyone with an active warrant from buying a gun in New York state.

7. Rebuild the police-community relationship

Data shows that when community trust for the police is low, 911 calls and regular patrols decrease while gun violence and crimes rates increase, the governor’s office said. A new portal of statewide police reform plans aims to encourage jurisdictions to learn from each other.

"Gun violence and crime should be the top priority for every mayor in this state because every city has been affected by it," Cuomo said.

Clay Harris, founder of Uniting and Healing Through Hope of Monroe County, says while the governor’s seven-point plan is a good start, gun violence was in Rochester long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

"So, it’s really about time we got a declaration of emergency to save lives when this pandemic has been going on for decades," Harris said.

The Urban League of Rochester’s Charisma Travis tells News10NBC she hopes to see some positive results from the governor’s plan.

"With violence increasing in Rochester, you know, I just, as you know, a bullet has no name," Travis said. "I just want the best, not just for our youth, but our community in general."

Meanwhile, community organizations like Action for a Better Community (ABC) are doing what they can to keep at-risk youth away from violence through summer employment programs. One program offered by ABC with the help of RochesterWorks! teaches participants the art of creating a short film.

"So, they get to work. It’s usually six weeks out of the summer. This year we’re condensing it into five weeks for 24 hours a week," ABC’s Youth Services Director Diane Bardeen said. "They get paid minimum wage, and we’re also partnering…the location is at the Rochester Public Library. So, they get to use all the facilities there."