The reign of terror when murder was king of New York in the ’80s and ’90s (2023)

The cover sheet on the clipboard hanging in the station house of Brooklyn’s blood-soaked 75th Precinct said it all: “You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you a homicide.”

Much to the chagrin of NYPD brass, the precinct’s battle-weary cops had come up with the twisted take on the 1010 WINS radio slogan to adorn their running list of open murder investigations in the 75th in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Near the homicide log, the detectives kept a whistle — and blew it every time a name was added.

“Some nights, it got real noisy in the office,” recalled retired NYPD Deputy Inspector George Duke.

On May 18, 1993, The Post’s front page dubbed the 5.5 square miles of the precinct’s neighborhoods — East New York and Cypress Hills — a “KILLING GROUND.” Someone was slain there an average of once every 63 hours.

Gunfire erupted so frequently that cops didn’t even bother responding to the sound until they knew someone had been hit — and sometimes found the body of a different victim, whose shooting hadn’t even been reported yet, on their way to the first crime scene.

Worried moms put their babies to bed in bathtubs or made their older children sleep on the floor in case a stray bullet came whizzing through a window, said Kevin Perham, a retired inspector who, like Duke, was a lieutenant at the time.

“I thought it was an unwinnable battle,” admitted current NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, who worked in the 75th Precinct and the neighboring — and equally dangerous — 73rd during the early ’90s. “We were taking guns off the street every night.”

But now, about a quarter-century later, the 75th has logged 11 homicides so far this year, or less than 10 percent of the 126 total it recorded for 1993, the first year for which the NYPD has precinct-level data.

And the entire city — which notched a modern-era record 2,245 murders in 1990 — had logged only 271 this year as of Dec. 12.

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Boyce credited “smart precision policing,” improved collaboration by multiple NYPD investigative units, new technology and a wide network of informants with helping drive down crime in the Big Apple.

“We are focusing on gangs; they are responsible for most of the shootings,” he said.

“Another important tool we have is working with the feds. When we prosecute gang members federally, we can send them out west, and they can’t run their gangs like they can if they were upstate.

“They get longer sentences in federal court.”

The wave of deadly violence that plagued the city nearly three decades ago was fueled by the crack epidemic, which pitted heavily armed dealers against each other as they battled for turf.

The drug scourge also unleashed onto the streets hordes of vicious addicts who robbed countless New Yorkers so they could get the cash they needed for their next hit.

In December 1993, gun-toting druggies even stole $800 from 10 city Sanitation workers during a five-stickup spree around the border of Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy and Brownsville.

For cops trying to rein in the criminals, their job was virtually an around-the-clock effort, said Boyce, who recalled one night in the 75th when four suspects, busted in four separate killings, were all crammed into the detective squad’s single holding cell.

“Back in the day, detectives would come in for their set [four days of work], and they didn’t go home” at all, he said.

“They brought clothes for the week, and they slept in the precinct.”

Boyce, an avid runner, never bothered during the work week because he knew he’d get plenty of exercise chasing perps.

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And homicide cops around the city began wearing special novelty T-shirts with the slogan, “Our day begins when your day ends.’’

The streets were so teeming with crooks that even a routine traffic stop could lead to a major bust.

One day, Boyce, NYPD Detective Stephen Hunter and another cop were parked at Stone and Sutter avenues when they saw a car pass a red light.

“We chased them and stopped them, grabbing four people. Each had a gun, and they just did a robbery in Queens,” Boyce said.

Boyce also recalled traveling along Sutter Avenue in an unmarked police car in the 73rd Precinct with Hunter “when someone started shooting from the Brownsville Houses.”

“They hit the front of the car,” Boyce said. “We got out and searched, but we never found the shooter.”

Nothing seemed to keep the bad guys at bay.

On July 4, 1993, off-duty housing cop Rudolph Thomas Jr. was confronted by two men trying to rob his brand-new motorcycle outside an East New York deli.

Thomas, 27, told the crooks, “I’m a cop” — but not even that mattered.

One of them fatally shot him in the right eye with a .22-caliber pistol.

The shooter then couldn’t start Thomas’s Honda motorcycle and ran away with his accomplice. A tipster helped cops bust the killer — ex-con John Williams, 24 — three days later.

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The Wild West atmosphere led to desperate measures by New Yorkers trying to keep themselves and their loved ones out of harm’s way.

Some terrified citizens resorted to taking their protection into their own hands, leading to a surge in gun ownership — both legal and otherwise.

One city resident, Yvesnande “Yvonne’’ Bureau, bought an unlicensed .25-caliber handgun after being repeatedly mugged, including on Christmas Eve 1989, when she was chased by a gunman firing shots and screaming obscenities.

On March 26, 1990, Bureau, then 20, was riding in a car driven by her best friend, Theresa Ann Jackson, when an armed robber yanked open the front passenger-side door at a red light in Crown Heights.

Bureau fired a shot that grazed the attacker’s forehead, and Jackson, 19, sped off — only to soon be fatally shot in the head by someone in a black Volvo that pulled up alongside them as they tried to flee.

Bureau was arrested and charged with felony weapon possession in a case that led her to be dubbed “Lady Goetz,” after infamous subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young men he accused of trying to rob him on a downtown No. 2 train in 1984.

She struck a misdemeanor plea bargain and was sentenced to four weekends in jail, with credit for the four days she spent on Rikers Island before her brother posted her $500 bail.

Bureau, now 47 and living in Queens, recently declined to discuss the incident, telling The Post she is worried “for my children’s safety because some people are still out there.”

The man who tried to rob her and Jackson, Clint Smith, was convicted of attempted robbery and released in 1992 to the custody of immigration officials for deportation proceedings, according to state prison records.

But he was eventually nabbed on the streets again, for an attempted robbery in Queens under a different name — Harry Page — and spent about a decade in the slammer.

Whoever killed Jackson, however, has never been caught.

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The number of city murders began significantly declining in the mid-1990s — and it is now on track to be the lowest since the 1950s, officials said. The exact year is unclear because the NYPD’s yearly totals date back only to 1960, when it was 390.

The lowest since then was 332 in 2014.

If Gotham records fewer than 300 murders in 2017, as expected, the total figure could even be less than the 282 murders committed in just three Brooklyn precincts — the 75th, 73rd and 77th — in 1993.

Since killings started decreasing, each successive mayor has taken credit for the good news.

Mayor de Blasio — whose rocky relationship with the NYPD’s rank-and-file led hundreds of cops to turn their backs on him at police funerals — claims that the “paradigm shift” toward his “neighborhood policing” policy “is one of the reasons we have this success.”

Hizzoner also defends his former boss, ex-Mayor David Dinkins — who presided over 1990’s record-high murders — saying his fellow Democrat’s “Safe Streets, Safe City” program set the stage for this year’s expected record low.

De Blasio’s predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, has ascribed the steep reductions in crime during his 12 years in office to the NYPD’s reliance on its controversial “stop and frisk” program, which saw street searches surge from fewer than 98,000 in 2002 to more than 685,000 in 2011. The program has largely been dismantled under de Blasio.

But most experts point to the transformative anti-crime policies implemented under Rudy Giuliani, who ousted Dinkins by running on a “get tough,” law-and-order platform in 1993.

Giuliani’s first police commissioner, Bill Bratton, introduced the ongoing, data-driven “CompStat” program, which lets police brass deploy cops to emerging crime hot spots based on statistics.

Furthermore, Bratton, who also served as de Blasio’s first police commissioner, championed the “broken windows” theory of policing, under which cops crack down on minor offenses to prevent crooks from committing more serious ones.

Current Police Commissioner James O’Neill has called the city’s crime drop “remarkable.

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“We give our cops time to interact and build relationships with the community,’’ he said during an interview earlier this month.

“This is something that law enforcement can’t do by themselves. Together, these crimes can go as low as we want them to go.”

Additional reporting by Reuven Fenton


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