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Welcome to Newburgh, Murder Capital of New York

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“As a 46-year-old hunter-killer,” Gagliano recalls, “to sit there in the car with him and just—we bawled. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t pull the hook out of his mouth and let him go.”

A photo hangs on the wall in Gagliano’s home of a smiling 13-year-old Delroy with his arm draped around Gagliano’s son. But today Delroy is in federal prison. He ended up pleading guilty and got ten years. Gagliano was with him for the sentencing.

One sweltering August afternoon, Gagliano and I are wandering around the streets of Newburgh. A lot of people are out: little girls skipping rope, boys playing touch football, an old lady fanning herself in a lawn chair on the sidewalk.

The streets are undeniably safer. “You take a hundred people out of here,” says Lieutenant Arnold, “it has to make some impact on the crime.” No one in Newburgh will tell you so without immediately touching wood, but so far this year, there has not been a single gang-related homicide.

Still, criminality has a way of creeping back. The kids are on the corners, and they’re younger every day. “If it’s an underground economy, and it’s really the only thing people can make money on,” Arnold says, “you’re not going to stamp it out.”

As we walk, Gagliano talks with evident pride about Newburgh’s armory, which the city bought for a dollar and reopened after the raid last May as a community center. It’s a small step, but Gagliano savors the symbolism of converting a building that was associated with the punitive aspect of his strategy for Newburgh into one that will embody some redemptive possibilities as well. For all of the success of his enforcement strategy, he is convinced this is the only way that Newburgh will ever permanently improve: one incremental alternative to gang life at a time.

The armory has a basketball court, and on Saturday mornings, Gagliano coaches 3-to-11-year-olds. “They are the most adorable, sweet, lovable group of kids,” he tells me. Then he catches himself and adds, “Yet some of them will be murderers.”


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