PROSPECT HEIGHTS — As the city mourned the deaths of police officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, officials struggled to respond to the escalating wave of violence that has seen five police officers shot in the first three weeks of this year.
Four of the shootings happened in a span of 72 hours.
On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams, a retired Transit Police captain who ran on a platform of reducing crime in New York City, announced steps to curb gun violence.
The steps include bringing back a controversial plainclothes Anti-Crime Unit — albeit in a modified form. Under his plan, the units will be called “Neighborhood Safety Teams” and will be deployed to remove guns from the streets.
“We will have boots on the ground on every block in this city,” the mayor said in a speech at City Hall. Adams called gun violence, “a public health crisis.”
The NYPD’s Anti-Crime Unit was disbanded in 2020 in the wake of the social justice protests that took place after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Rivera’s funeral was scheduled to take place Friday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The wake for the slain officer was also set for the cathedral on Thursday. Plans for Mora’s wake and funeral were not finalized as of Tuesday.
“I am struggling to find the words to express the tragedy we are enduring. We’re mourning and we are angry,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said the day after the incident.
Rivera, 22, who joined the NYPD in 2020 and was assigned to the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, and Mora, 27, who became a cop in 2018, were shot while answering a domestic violence call in an apartment at 119 West 135th St. on the night of Jan. 21.
Rivera, Mora, and a third officer, Sumit Sulan, responded to a 911 call from a woman who told police she was having a dispute with her son, and arrived at the apartment at 6:30 p.m., police said. The officers were met by the woman and her other son. The woman directed the officers to a back room where the son she reported to 911 was located.
The officers walked down a hallway and as they approached the room, the suspect, Lashawn McNeil, 47, opened fire, police said.
McNeil was shot in the head and arm by Sulan when he tried to escape the apartment, police said.
Rivera, Mora, and McNeil were all rushed to Harlem Hospital. Rivera died. Mora, in critical condition, was later transferred to NYU Langone Health and on Jan. 25, died after being taken off life support. McNeil died on Monday.
Community residents gathered outside the 32nd Precinct station house for a candlelight vigil for Rivera and Mora on Saturday night. The site has turned into a memorial as hundreds of people have stopped there in the days since the shooting to place votive candles.
Catholic leaders have stepped forward to offer words of comfort. Cardinal Timothy Dolan visited Mora’s bedside at Harlem Hospital and prayed for the officer.
Bishop Robert Brennan offered prayers for the NYPD. “Our hearts are broken,” the bishop wrote, “the suffering is incomprehensible. Lord, please comfort them all in the NYPD.”
President Joe Biden tweeted about the tragedy, saying that he was praying for the cops. “Officers put on the badge and head into harm’s way every day,” the president wrote. “We’re grateful to them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifice.”
Jill and I are saddened to hear two NYPD officers were shot last night — one fatally. We’re keeping them and their families in our prayers. Officers put on the badge and head into harm’s way every day. We’re grateful to them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifice.
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 22, 2022
Rivera’s death took place amid a spike in shootings of police officers across the country.
According to the FBI, 73 officers died in the line of duty in felonious killings in the U.S. in 2021 — the highest one-year total since 1995.
Overall crime has increased in the city, NYPD figures show. Major crimes (murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny) are up 35.2% this year over the same period last year and shooting incidents are up 15.6%.
The city’s subways have also seen an increase in crime. There were eight homicides and 461 felony assaults in the transit system in 2021 — the highest totals in those two crime categories since 1997.
In an incident that shocked the city, a 40-year-old woman was shoved onto the R train tracks at the Times Square subway station and died. The victim, Michelle Go, was waiting for a downtown R train at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 15 when the suspect, identified as Simon Martial, 61, pushed her on the tracks and into the path of an oncoming train. Go was pronounced dead at the scene.
Martial left the scene but later turned himself in to transit police. He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.