US deploys more police officers to New York Times Square after bystander is shot

Police are seen patrolling Times Square in New York City on June 28, 2021.
Police are seen patrolling Times Square in New York City on June 28, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Dozens of additional police officers, some working undercover, will be dispatched to Times Square, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday (June 28), a day after a tourist was struck by a stray bullet in broad daylight.

The shooting, the second in Times Square in two months, came amid an increase in gun violence in the city that began during the pandemic and has not subsided, and led to chaos in the iconic tourist destination at a time when the city is seeking to lure back visitors. In May, stray bullets fired during a dispute struck three bystanders in Times Square, including a 4-year-old child.

At a news conference Monday, de Blasio said he was going to "flood the zone" with police after Sunday's shooting.

"The bottom line is we are going to flood the zone in Times Square with additional officers to make sure this situation is resolved once and for all," de Blasio said. "We have more and more activity out there, more and more jobs coming back, more and more tourists coming back. They have to be safe and they have to feel safe."

The victim, Samuel Poulin, 21, is a US Marine and a recent graduate of the Citadel military college in South Carolina, according to a statement released by the college. He was shot once in the back and transported to the hospital in stable condition, the police said.

Nearly 800 people have been shot in the city through June 20, according to data from the New York Police Department - the highest number over the same period since 2002.

The increase in gun violence this year has cast a shadow on the city's reopening after 15 months of lockdown. New York's yearlong state of emergency was finally lifted last week, and Times Square is once again a bustling cacophony; on Saturday night, a full-length Broadway show was put on for a paying audience for the first time in more than 400 days, when Bruce Springsteen revived his show at the St James Theatre.

"We were up until the shooting very optimistic about our progress. We really are two steps forward and maybe a half step back," said Tom Harris, a former New York City police officer and president of the Times Square Alliance, a group of businesses and stakeholders that works to promote the neighbourhood.

Times Square was averaging around 185,000 visitors a day last week, Harris said, and 200,000 this past weekend. The numbers are a far cry from pre-pandemic levels, when the area averaged around 360,000 visitors a day.

Still, Harris said, they represented a significant increase from 2020, and many business owners hoped the uptick was a sign of progress. He was hopeful that the increased police presence could allay concerns that Times Square was unsafe.

"We are back," he said. "This is a speed bump in our recovery." Midtown South, the police precinct that houses Times Square and the surrounding area, has seen six shootings so far this year; in the same time period last year, there were none, according to police statistics.

Rodney Harrison, New York Police Department's Chief of Department, said the increased number of officers, which will include undercover officers, would engage with those involved in the "aggressive" solicitation of CDs and panhandling.