Big Apple cops are grappling with a “deficient” juvenile criminal justice system that treats young offenders with kid gloves — even as the city faces a twofold jump in the number of underage accused killers, NYPD officials told The Post.
Authorities said the state’s “Raise the Age” statute has led to a decline in overall arrests and more slap-on-the-wrist “juvenile reports” — the equivalent of a ticket that carries no criminal consequences for suspected teen offenders.
“We’ve been able to take 16- and 17-year-olds in Raise the Age and not criminalize it by doing juvenile reports,” outgoing NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, in charge of the department’s youth division, said in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
“We’re not even giving them a little timeout, so to speak. And that’s where Raise the Age is really failing our kids. The recidivism is skyrocketing.”
O’Connor spoke just hours after Commissioner Keechant Sewell warned about “a system that is deficient in meaningful intervention for our youth” during the annual State of the NYPD speech in Midtown.
NYPD stats show that between January and September last year, the number of underage homicide suspects jumped to 161, nearly double the number during the same period in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Raise the Age statute, signed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 10, 2017, took effect in October 2019, upping the age for a teen to face adult charges to 18, from the previous 16- and 17-year-old threshold.
Since then, police statistics show drastically fewer arrests in the seven major crimes and gun cases for under-18 suspects, with the number dropping from 5,009 in 2019 to 3,472 last year.
Instead, younger New Yorkers who get busted now face friendlier treatment as juveniles, with their cases tried in family court or the Youth Part in state Supreme Court — where records are sealed and sentences are significantly lighter.
O’Connor, who is retiring on Friday, said the juvenile reports “go nowhere” because juvenile crimes are sealed by law, keeping underage recidivism under wraps.
“That’s insane and nobody gets it,” he said. “The problem with the juvenile world is they’ve created a system that we’re not allowed to share any information. We’re not about the kids. I can use data and statistics, but how do you fit it when there’s no accountability.”
For instance, three teens recently nabbed for allegedly pummeling Fox News weatherman Adam Klotz on a Manhattan subway train last week were written up in juvenile reports and turned over to their parents without being charged.
One of the teens, who is 17, could have been charged with assault as an adult prior to the change in state law in 2019.
“Anyone who is prosecuted as a juvenile, the punishment is going to be much less,” prominent Manhattan defense attorney Mark Bederow said Wednesday. “That is a reality of how the system is created.
“Anybody who is prosecuted as a juvenile is not going to be facing the same penalties and the same consequences and if they are not properly provided services and life skills, there is always a greater chance they could end up doing something again,” Bederow added. “I think that is clear.”
O’Connor said the change has also taxed the juvenile justice system and available resources.
“The only place they could put them was in one of two juvenile facilities, Horizons [Youth Services] or Crossroads [Juvenile Center],” he said. “So they turned Horizons into the remand for 16- and 17-year-olds.
“Over 50% of the kids in that facility right now are in for murder or attempted murder,” he said. “They only have the capacity citywide of a city of 1.1 million kids to hold 212 kids.”
Meanwhile, statistics reveal a disturbing new pattern in youth crime in recent years.
The Post reported last month that 12.7% of identified shooters in the five boroughs through the first nine months of last year were under 18 — up from the 9.2% figure from 2017.
More children have also found themselves in the line of fire, with one in 10 shooting victims in 2022 being under the age of 18.
Among those were 11-year-old Kyhara Tay, who was fatally struck by a stray bullet outside a nail salon in a botched moped drive-by targeting a 13-year-old in The Bronx in May 2022.
One of the two teenagers indicted over her murder — 18-year-old Omar Bojang — was arrested twice in 2020 for gun-related incidents that are sealed under Raise the Age, sources have said.
Other cases also highlight how Raise the Age has failed New Yorkers:
- A 16-year-old who slugged a city cop at a Manhattan subway station in July was released without bail because the law classified him as a juvenile offender — even though he had also walked free days earlier after allegedly jumping a 49-year-old straphanger in Midtown.
- Jahquell James, a 17-year-old reputed Brooklyn gangbanger, was cut loose despite an attempted murder rap and two open gun cases because he couldn’t be charged as an adult. Prosecutors finally got him locked up in May, but only after yet another gun bust.
- Up-and-coming rapper Camrin Williams, 17, was shipped to a Brooklyn juvenile facility — and not Rikers Island — after allegedly shooting a city cop in January 2022. He was later released on bail. Williams already had a 2020 gun rap on his record, for which he got off with probation because of his juvenile status.
Police said other cases beyond the controversial law demonstrate the Big Apple’s recent uptick in troubling youth violence.
One 13-year-old reputed gangbanger was “executed” in the back of an Uber after getting released without bail in the midst of a Bronx gang war — and despite three prior gun busts.
“Why was he not in jail?” O’Connor asked. “Why was he not in some kind of limited security secure facility getting services and getting help.”
One law enforcement source explained that, “when a kid is arrested with a gun and gets out in time for dinner, it sends a message to all of his friends who might be on the margins.”
“That message says, ‘Pick up that gun. There are no consequences,” the source said. “That way of thinking then spreads like an infection. And the problem of youth violence becomes exponentially greater.
“The cruel irony is that the communities these politicians falsely purport to protect, are the communities cleaning the blood of children off of their streets.”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino and Priscilla DeGregory