By Ali Bauman

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The NYPD says combating gun violence is a central focus as violent crime continues to rise citywide.

CBS2’s Ali Bauman spoke exclusively with James Essig, the department’s new chief of detectives, about his strategies for reducing crime.

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A tourist shot by a stray bullet in Midtown and a 5-year-old girl grazed by a bullet in Brooklyn are the latest crimes in a disturbing rise in violence across the city.

Shootings in March were up 76% compared to the year before.

“We have to work with everybody. It’s not just an NYPD problem. It’s a community problem,” said Chief Essig, who oversees 6,000 detectives on every major investigation in the city.

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Bauman spoke with Essig before he was sworn in as Chief of Detectives last week.

“What is your top priority going into this role?” Bauman asked.

“Well, I think we’ve all seen the spike in violence. That’s number one,” Essig said.

Essig has 38 years with the department and was an architect of its Gun Violence Suppression Unit.

“We targeted a very narrow group of very violent people and, in a very short turnaround, we were able to put them in jail and violence plummeted,” he said.

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He plans to use that precision policing strategy in his new role.

“Between 1,500 and 2,000 people who have multiple gun offenses, who do our shootings and do our homicides. Such a small percentage. If we could take those people off the street and away from the rest of the people, we’ll reduce that violence,” said Essig.

“So how do you do that?” said Bauman.

“Existing cases that we’ve had in the detective bureau, that’ve been put on hold for the last year, we gotta prioritize them,” he said.

Essig says investigators must now catch up on the backlog from the pandemic.

“Where we might’ve taken 100 bad shooters off the street in the last year, it’s led to an increase in crime,” he said.

As a young officer in 1985, Essig was awarded the Medal of Valor for helping a woman trapped when a 35-ton crane collapsed in upper Manhattan.

“The crane was actually teetering off the side,” Essig told Bauman. “Actually, lowered a couple of us down and we comforted the victim and talked to her… Hours and hours later, they were able to dig her out.”

Now, Essig plans to use his communication skills once again to better community relations.

“How do you work on gaining the trust of some New Yorkers?” asked Bauman.

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“Sometimes we’re in a bubble. We’re in a police bubble… But I’m willing to listen to everyone,” he said. “The community determines what the police are gonna be, and eventually we will be what the community wants.”

Ali Bauman