- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged on Tuesday that a spike in shootings was alarming but sought to reassure people the police department was handling the problem.

“It’s something we’re addressing right now. There is no greater priority for me than public safety,” de Blasio said at a hastily organized question-and-answer session following the release of police department figures that showed shootings are up 9 percent from the same period last year, from 403 to 439.

Homicides also are up, from 113 to 135, and most of the victims killed last month were shot to death, police said.

But de Blasio, a Democrat serving his first term, sought to keep the violence in perspective, acknowledging the uptick but noting shootings were limited to about a dozen precincts, were largely gang-on-gang violence and were reminiscent of a similar pre-summer spike that was decisively quelled a year ago.

“Every single day I am going over those (crime) numbers, and I feel them deeply,” he said.

Starting next week, 330 police officers will be pulled from their usual duties for special patrols to handle the spike and manage other violence predicted during the hotter months. The New York Police Department used similar patrols last summer to combat a rise in shootings. This year, the patrols begin a month earlier.

Overall crime is down about 7 percent from the same time a year ago. But the needle is being closely watched as the mayor works to change how the NYPD engages with the people it polices. Officers are stopping hundreds of thousands of fewer people, writing fewer summonses and stepping back from some enforcement on some marijuana possession and low-level crimes. And de Blasio’s budget did not call for the 1,000 new officers suggested by the City Council.

The mayor said Tuesday that the NYPD, the nation’s largest police department, is better equipped even from a year ago to handle an increase in shootings: Officers have better training and technology and are wasting less time on pot busts. But he twice sidestepped the question of whether the uptick in violence could influence his decision on hiring more police officers, saying only: “The steps are already being taken” to suppress the violence.

On Monday at the NYPD’s monthly press conference on crime statistics, officials said they were dealing with a spike and asked for help from the public in quelling violence.

“We do not take this lightly,” Chief of Department James O’Neill said. “This is our focus. This is what keeps us up at night.”

In comparison to just five years ago, shootings are down from 516 to 439 and homicides also are down from 167 to 135.

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