The tactic involves tracking known gang members on social media, where many post incriminating evidence about themselves and their crews.
“If I had to point to one reason why the murders and the shootings are down, it is this program,” said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “And I can tell you that there is a lot of positive feedback from cops.”
This is a dramatic shift from Kelly's defense of the department's stop-and-frisk policy, in which he said if the practice ends "no question about it, violent crime will go up."
Youth gangs, known as crews or sets and centered around specific blocks or housing projects, are responsible for 30 percent of all shootings in the city in recent years, according to police.
Unlike national gangs like Bloods or Crips, the street crews are small, informal groups of teenagers involved in low-level marijuana dealing and local robberies. Their fatal conflicts are mostly about reputation and turf.
The social media strategy is helping officers build full criminal conspiracy cases against entire groups, using their own online bragging to friend networks against them. Social media has shaved years of undercover work off the task.
Officers now say Facebook is the most reliable informant, as young people in particular seem to happily post photos of illegal weapons, drugs and other activities to Facebook and Twitter -- evidence which will surely be used against them.
Kelly says Operation Crew Cut has helped reduce murders to new lows. Citywide, police have recorded 774 shootings through Sept. 8, down from 1,029 over the same period last year. In the 75th precinct, one of the city's most violent, shootings are down 30 percent this year.
Meanwhile, stop-and-frisk, which relied on widespread racial profiling, has been rejected by the city council, a federal judge, and finally, by Democratic voters who supported mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, an outspoken critic of the tactic.