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Retiring NYPD assistant commissioner sounds off on rising gun violence among teenagers

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NEW YORK — An NYPD assistant commissioner who is set to retire is sounding off about what he says is the cause of a disturbing pattern of rising gun violence among teenagers.

Just last week in New York City, at least two minors were arrested for shootings, another four were shot and a gun was found in a 13-year-old’s backpack.

Cassandra Adams says a photo of her daughter Raelynn sparks memories that bring her joy, but it also brings her pain, knowing they can’t make more memories together.

“I don’t even know what to do with my life now that my daughter is gone. I’m just saying, I just get up like a robot and go to work and all that, but I don’t even know what to do,” she said.

READ MORE: Exclusive: Family of 17-year-old Raelynn Cameron speaks out about her shooting; “I don’t understand how this can happen”  

Raelynn Cameron, an aspiring dancer, was just 17 when she was gunned down in October at an East New York apartment building where her cousin lived. She was one of at least 157 people under the age of 18 shot last year in New York City.

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That number has skyrocketed over the last few years.

“Mothers should not be losing children like this,” Adams said.

If you dig through court records and police reports, you’ll find 64 minors were shot across the city in 2019. In 2020, the number nearly doubled to 125, then increased again in 2021 and 2022.

The number of kids committing shootings? NYPD data shows that’s also on the rise.

CBS2’s Tim McNicholas spoke with NYPD Assistant Commissioner of Youth Services Kevin O’Connor, who is in his final days with the force.

“Why is that number increasing?” McNicholas asked.

“My honest belief is we’ve seen this coming for many years,” O’Connor said.

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O’Connor blames several juvenile justice reform laws and policies enacted in the last 11 years.

“It sends a clear message. We know these kids know they’re not gonna get arrested. I have a young man that’s 16 years old, he has five gun arrests. How is that possible?” he said.

One of the laws O’Connor refers to is called “Raise the Age.” The law raised the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18, so 16- and 17-year-olds would no longer be charged as adults. It allows for exceptions for some violent crimes and some gun offenses, but not illegal possession of a gun.

Last year, Mayor Eric Adams said although he supports Raise the Age, the law should be amended because adult gang members are exploiting the law and making teenagers carry their guns.

“They keep adding these laws that they think are helping these kids, and it’s doing just the opposite. They’re not getting the services they need. They’re not getting the attention they need when something goes wrong,” O’Connor said.

We played O’Connor’s statements for Julia Davis, of the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit that fought for Raise the Age and other juvenile justice reforms.

“I think the services are much better than before Raise the Age,” Davis said.

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The law raised the age of criminal responsibility to 17 years old in October of 2018 and 18 years old a year later, but she points out that the jump in youth gun violence started in 2020.

“We need to also address the underlying needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We know kids are in a mental health crisis. We also know the pandemic has hardest hit Black and Latinx communities, where we’ve seen the biggest levels of death, illness, loss of life and also loss of jobs, disruptions in school,” Davis said.

RELATED STORY: Data shows troubling increase in number of juveniles shot across New York City

“I guess my question is, why do you think that the number of kids involved in these crimes, as victims or perpetrators, is still going up even as schools have gone back, unemployment’s back down?” McNicholas asked.

“The mental health crisis for adolescents and young adults is very much present with us,” Davis said.

Whatever the solution is, Davis and O’Connor agree, more needs to be done to keep kids safer in 2023 and to get gun violence overall back down to historic lows of 2017 and ’18.

For heartbroken parents like Adams, it’s about more than just juvenile laws. Police say the 22-year-old man charged with her daughter’s murder, Javone Duncan, had five prior arrests, including two in 2020 for criminal possession of a gun, for which he was sentenced to three years’ probation. A law enforcement source said a lack of a DNA evidence complicated the cases.

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“They know they do something, they’re going to jail for two, three years, four years, five years or cashless bail, and then getting out,” Adams said.

As the homicide case moves through court, Adams moves through the motions of life, carrying a pain she wishes on no one.

Source: CBS

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