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NY trying to reduce gun violence with new state agency

January 26, 2022 GMT
FILE - A New York City Police Department officer lights a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, near the scene of a shooting that claim the lives of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, Jan. 26, appointed the head of a new state agency that will try to curb rising gun violence in hot spots. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
FILE - A New York City Police Department officer lights a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, near the scene of a shooting that claim the lives of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, Jan. 26, appointed the head of a new state agency that will try to curb rising gun violence in hot spots. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
FILE - A New York City Police Department officer lights a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, near the scene of a shooting that claim the lives of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, Jan. 26, appointed the head of a new state agency that will try to curb rising gun violence in hot spots. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
FILE - A New York City Police Department officer lights a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, near the scene of a shooting that claim the lives of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, Jan. 26, appointed the head of a new state agency that will try to curb rising gun violence in hot spots. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
FILE - A New York City Police Department officer lights a candle at a makeshift memorial outside the NYPD's 32nd Precinct, near the scene of a shooting that claim the lives of NYPD officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Monday Jan. 24, 2022. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday, Jan. 26, appointed the head of a new state agency that will try to curb rising gun violence in hot spots. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An administrator with a background in anti-poverty efforts and public health was appointed by the governor Wednesday to lead a new state agency that will try to curb gun violence.

Calliana Thomas, a lifelong Harlem resident, will direct the state’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced.

Thomas previously worked on gun violence prevention programs during seven years with New York City’s health department and was also an assistant director of technical assistance in an institute affiliated with the Harlem Children’s Zone, a youth development group, the governor’s office said.

The new state agency, which is within the state’s health department, will examine the drivers and effects of gun violence, Hochul said.

“What leads people to this, and what is going on in their emotional and psychological worlds of what could be driving people to these decisions?” the Democrat said.

Hochul announced the appointment ahead of the first meeting of a new interstate task force dedicated to improving tracing of illegal guns.

“We have the opportunity to have interdiction efforts along our border with Pennsylvania, identifying the gun shows where people are purchasing guns, loading up a trunk and coming up by 81 or route 90 in toward Western New York,” Hochul said. “And then the guns are ending up in our cities in particular. And that’s the level of trafficking that we want to zero in on.”

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Violent crime across the state had been steadily dropping in recent years, but shootings spiked in both New York and nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overall rate of violent crime in New York remains lower than the national average, and lower even than it was within the state just four years ago, according to federal data. But the sudden increase that started in 2020 has eroded years of progress and raised concerns that the trend could continue.

Hochul’s budget proposal includes more funding for gun crime tracing, as well as for hiring more social media analysts to help police investigators.

“This way we can find out early on what trends are out there,” Hochul said. “What are people talking about? What’s the chatter? And perhaps identify individuals who are on the cusp of purchasing guns or trafficking in guns, or even committing crimes.”