Murders ‘Doubled Overnight,’ and the Percentage Solved by the N.Y.P.D. Plunged

Good morning. Today we’ll look at the jump in murders during the pandemic and the drop in cases closed by the police. And, now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’ll also get a peek at how Macy’s is returning to in-person visits with Santa in a reconfigured workshop.

The statistic is called the clearance rate. It is a tally of the murder cases the New York Police Department solves. It stood at nearly 90 percent in the years before the pandemic. But as shootings and homicides increased last year, the department’s records show that it dropped to around 60 percent.

Video cameras record nearly every step of some New Yorkers’ daily lives once they leave home. But some high-crime neighborhoods are short on surveillance, the police say — and the pandemic confounded the tools. Masks have made it difficult to identify assailants recorded on video as they run from crime scenes, officials say. They also complain that because of recently revamped laws that allow names of informants to be turned over to defense lawyers, many potential witnesses resist coming forward.

“It’s not for lack of trying,” said Lt. William O’Toole, who heads the Bronx homicide squad. “We’re not getting a lot of community help.”

My colleague Ali Watkins writes that the jump in unsolved cases hit the Bronx especially hard after the pandemic closed in and shootings climbed to their highest levels in 15 years. O’Toole said the clearance rate in the Bronx is around 62 percent. He also said that 17 murder suspects have been identified and that warrants have been issued for them.

But, he said, “It’s harder with the pandemic.”

That is cold comfort for Marisol Sanchez. Her son, JayQuan Lewis, was known as “J.J.” and had planned to start nursing school in September. He was shot and killed in a bodega in August. The police identified a suspect within hours but did not release a photograph for fear of scaring him out of New York, Sanchez said.

“I have a strong feeling they’re going to find him soon,” Sanchez said more than a month ago.

She is still waiting.

[After Murders ‘Doubled Overnight,’ the N.Y.P.D. Is Solving Fewer Cases]

The challenge for the police is particularly difficult in cases involving gangs or drugs, which the police believe may have figured in the shooting. The killer might have mistaken Lewis — who had avoided street life — for someone else. There was no indication that Lewis and the gunman knew each other.

Video footage from the bodega shows Lewis standing at the counter. The gunman, identified by the police as Kemel Smith, approaches Lewis from behind. He fires seven times before walking calmly away.

The police released the suspect’s mug shot in October. That devastated Sanchez, who took it as confirmation that detectives had no idea where her son’s killer might be.

“I don’t understand how they haven’t caught him yet,” she said at a Halloween party in honor of Lewis. Dressed in a “Beetlejuice” costume — “J.J. used to love ‘Beetlejuice,’” she said — she ended up sitting in a corner. Her two younger sons refused to go to the event, she said — they would not celebrate without their older brother.

“I know his mother wants a lot of questions answered about what happened,” O’Toole said. “They live it every day.”

But, he said, the police have been looking for Smith for only three months.


Temps will be in the mid-40s after some early morning showers. The rest of the day will be mostly cloudy, with more rain possible. Wind gusts persist through a partly cloudy night, with temps dropping to the low 30s.

alternate-side parking

In effect until Dec. 8 (Immaculate Conception).

His nose — will it look like a cherry from behind a mask? His dimples — how merry will they be if you cannot see them?

And Santa’s lap? Oh, it will be where it always is, somewhere south of the little round belly that will shake when he laughs, like a bowl full of — you know. But there will be no sitting in Santa’s lap. Not at Macy’s in Herald Square, anyway. Santa will be on one side of a desk, fully masked. All the good girls and boys will be on the other side, also masked.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade returned on Thursday in its full, helium-filled glory. You can read about it here. But now it’s time to look ahead.

Macy’s, which took its Santaland virtual last year, is bringing back the in-person encounter with Santa, but with concessions to the pandemic that will make the keepsake photograph a reminder that even Santa’s rituals have changed.

Everyone in Santaland, customers and employees alike, will wear masks, a requirement imposed nowhere else in the huge Macy’s flagship store, although it encourages all of its customers to mask up. The layout of Santaland has also been reconfigured to make possible social distancing when children and their parents stand in line.

Approaching Santa has always been a bit like approaching a throne, but now it will be a bit like approaching a talk-show host, except that the children (and their parents, if they wish) will not sit on a couch alongside Santa.

One thing will not change: The camera will still face Santa. When the time comes to snap the photograph, the child and his or her parents will turn around with their masks still in place.

“We want to make sure everyone — our guests, Santa and his elves — feel safe,” said Kathleen Wright, a production director for Macy’s.

Macy’s is not differentiating between children younger than 5 — who are not eligible for vaccination — and those who are older and are eligible. Nor is Macy’s asking whether older children have received a shot. It is requiring reservations for Santaland, as it has also done in the past for crowd control.

Ms. Wright suggested that the encounter with Santa would look as if Santa is in his office. The seats will figure into the store’s “enhanced cleaning protocols.” After each family’s encounter with Santa, elves will appear and wipe down the surfaces the children and their parents have touched.

It is a new ritual in a setting that connotes tradition. “For a lot of people, Macy’s pretty much owns Christmas,” the author Reggie Nadelson wrote in The Times last year, noting that Macy’s has had Santas since 1861, three years after the department store first opened.

“One of the things that keeps Macy’s — the idea of Macy’s — special is its sense of itself, its scale, the way it promotes its own myth, much as New York does. For many people, it is all they know of the city as a child.”

Ms. Wright, though, did not know it. She grew up in River Edge, N.J., but was never taken to Macy’s Santaland. “Now that so many of my friends have children and my cousins have children, I tell everyone, ‘We missed out on this as kids. Such a magical place.’”

  • “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” has a new Satine — Natalie Mendoza, who had a small part in the 2001 film that the Tony-winning show was adapted from.

  • Holiday windows are back. “Yay, yay, yay, lights!” said Michelle Obama, the former first lady, before pressing a giant button to unveil the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue. New York shoppers are back, too.


Dear Diary:

My girlfriend had just gotten a job in New York after finishing law school, so we packed our meager belongings into an overly large rental truck one bright summer morning and drove off to begin our first attempt at urban living.

It would be an understatement to say we were anxious as we threaded the truck through Manhattan’s narrow side streets. Our anxiety peaked as we turned onto the street where our new apartment was.

Up ahead, a large moving van like ours was double-parked, leaving what seemed like an impossibly skinny lane for us to navigate.

Somehow, I knew this was our first test. Without slowing down, I squeezed the truck through the space with inches to spare on either side.

As I pulled up in front of our new address, a cabby yelled out his window as he whizzed by.

“Nice driving!” he shouted.

I hardly noticed the six flights up to the apartment.

— G. Steve Jordan

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you Monday. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Newyork timek

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