Shoppers have become used to crowds and commotion in retail stores during the holidays, but nothing like what happened last month at the Target store in Downtown Brooklyn. Six men in their 20s, one carrying a large knife, pursued a 44-year-old man through the store. After a brief skirmish, the older man shot one of his pursuers in the chest, fatally wounding him. Both the shooter and the man wielding the knife were charged with criminal possession of a weapon, among other crimes.
The Nov. 7 killing at the store in the City Point complex along the Fulton Mall was just one of several incidents of gang-related gunplay in the area in recent months. Suggesting a pattern of violence in Brooklyn’s busiest hub, the shootings prompted Borough President Eric Adams in recent weeks to convene with police, elected officials and business leaders to confront the issue.
Earlier this week, amid the busiest shopping days of the year, Adams and several officials gave a press conference to announce crime-prevention measures they’re putting in place. Adams began by describing the unique nature of Downtown Brooklyn, one of the most mixed-use neighborhoods in the city, including a retail district, courthouses, schools, and high-rise residential buildings.
“It is a very complicated area,” Adams said. “We have a number of courts. Family courts are located here. (The) Supreme Court is located here. Civil courts are located here. We have many parolees, probation officers, all come down to the Downtown area. Witnesses being interviewed by the District Attorney’s offices. And we have a lot of schools,” Adams said.
“But all of that on top of the fact that this is the shopping district of Brooklyn, it makes it extremely complicated to make sure that safety is … treated as the No. 1. priority. It is the prerequisite to any type of prosperity,” Adams concluded.
To be sure, crime in the general area is just a vestige of what it used to be. In the 84th Precinct, which includes Fulton Mall as well as such neighborhoods as Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo, the number of robberies last year was just 127, down 93% from 1990, when the statistic hit 1,908.
Even so, gunplay in the Fulton Mall area raises high-level concerns not only because of the vast crowds of innocent bystanders, but because the headlines have the potential to discourage shoppers, which was even the case decades ago, when Brooklynites were more inured to violent crime.
Now the economic stakes are even higher, since billions of dollars have been invested in new residential, office, and retail developments, including such City Point destinations as Century 21 and the DeKalb Market Hall. Commercial rents on Fulton Street reached $326 per sq. ft. last year, among the highest in the U.S.
What’s problematic in terms of crime, Adams said, is the major presence of court systems, which draw alleged criminals and parolees, as well as their associates and gang rivals.
In a shooting on July 13 near the Gap Factory Outlet on Fulton Mall, three people were wounded, including the intended target and two bystanders. On Aug. 1, gunfire apparently sparked by a sidewalk argument rang out at MetroTech Center at 11:15 a.m., prompting office workers to take shelter; no was was injured. On Oct. 1, multiple shots were fired just a block from Borough Hall in mid afternoon, wounding at least two of the teens involved in the altercation.
The October episode prompted Adams to call for a collaboration of Brooklyn leaders to search for solutions. “The Downtown Brooklyn community was deeply impacted today by gunshots fired in broad daylight, the third such incident in effectively as many months,” he said in a statement. “Young people were in the immediate vicinity of this shooting, as were members of my office.”
At a press conference later in October, Adams attributed the outbreak of shootings to gang members and other criminal defendants visiting courts and parole offices. In investigating the incidents, police found guns stashed at multiple Downtown sites, as if in preparation for a beef with rivals. “People who were on their way to court,” Adams said, “appeared to have hidden guns on construction sites or other locations.”
At this week’s press conference, Adams and other officials said they are putting in place several new measures, including the increased use of security cameras, heavier policing, and sharing of information among departments.
“We did have a few incidents earlier in the year,” said the NYPD’s Jeffrey Maddrey, commanding officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn North, “but we were able to put more resources down, increase the visibility of the patrol officers, increase our intelligence gathering capacity to understand what was going on and why we were having this phenomenon.” All of the shootings, Maddrey said, were gang-related.
Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, said that her organization is providing increased information from its affiliates—the partnership manages the MetroTech Business Improvement District as well as the Fulton Mall Improvement Association—in the form of new and enhanced security cameras as well as increased collaboration with the NYPD.
Representatives from both the city’s Department of Correction and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office stated that they were relaying more information to NYPD when potential “problem” individuals would be in the area, hoping to head off any potential confrontations before they start.
All parties professed confidence that their new, comprehensive approach to identifying potential threats would pay dividends.
“This is a safe place because of the coordination we have put in place,” Adams said. “And to those who believe they want to come downtown and create any form of havoc: It is not going to happen in Downtown Brooklyn.”