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On eve of Trumps New York hush money trial, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg touts drop in violent crime

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Alvin Bragg had a problem.

It was August 2022, and the Manhattan district attorney had just found out two people had been shot — including a bystander who had been shot in the head — during an attempted robbery in the borough’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

In a city struggling through the post-pandemic crime surge, it posed a crisis for Bragg, who had been elected as a reformist prosecutor but who critics painted as soft on crime.

“We’ve got more work to do in an absolute sense,” Bragg told ABC News during an interview in his office Friday. “We want to get back down to pre-pandemic levels, and the data is encouraging. It’s going in the right direction, but we have more work to do.”

As Bragg sat in his office, he made no mention of his most notable prosecution just three days away — the 34-count indictment against former President Donald Trump set to go to trial on Monday.

The former president, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, has criticized Bragg for bringing the case while accusing the DA of being “lazy on violent crime” — calling him a “radical liberal New York prosecutor who refuses to prosecute violent criminals.”

‘Things speak for themselves’

Since Bragg’s first day in office — when he set a new office policy against prosecuting certain crimes and limiting the use of incarceration — he has faced blowback against his approach to law enforcement, which has flared up with each high-profile instance of violent crime.

In the last year, the chokehold death of a homeless man on the New York City subway, the attack on police officers by migrants in Times Square, and the refusal by an Arizona prosecutor to extradite a murder suspect to New York have provided fodder for Bragg’s critics.

Bragg defended his conduct as measured and responsible, including the exoneration of a Venezuelan man who was falsely identified — and subsequently vilified — for allegedly participating in the Times Square assault earlier this year.

He has called on the city and the state to support mental health treatment initiatives, as he did Sunday in a New York Times editorial.

And in the fight to lower crime, Bragg and his partners at the New York Police Department are seeing results: Since 2021, shootings in Manhattan have dropped by 38% while homicides have dropped by 21%.

“I think things speak for themselves,” Bragg said about his record. “The reporting schedule can often get out in front of the investigatory schedule, and I do think that that can lead to some unfortunate sort of informational dislocations.”

‘The right thing for the right reason’

In his campaign appearances and on social media, Trump has made crime in New York a centerpiece of his attacks on Bragg.

“We have violent criminals that are murdering people, killing people. We have drug dealers all over the place and they go free, and they can do whatever they want,” Trump said after a hearing in the criminal case last month. “But they go after Trump when there is not even a crime.”

Bragg on Friday declined to address Trump’s criticisms directly, citing his office’s policy of not discussing active cases, but he insisted his prosecution of the former president has no impact on the other work of his office.

“I’m not going to talk about any one particular defendant — I don’t think that would be appropriate or any one active case — but what I will say is 1,500 committed public servants come there every day focused on doing the right thing for the right reason in the right way,” Bragg said, noting that prosecutions for gun-related offenses and hate crimes are up.

Come Monday, Bragg and his team of prosecutors will be at the center of arguably the most consequential trial in American history, after charging the former president of the United States with falsifying business records to conceal information from voters. Bragg is the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a current or former U.S. president.

“I am charged with exercising independent prosecutorial discretion. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years,” Bragg said about his overall record of public service that includes stints at the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and the New York Attorney General’s office.

To many of his friends and colleagues, Bragg is close to the perfect person to bring the unprecedented case against Trump.

“This is a very unique moment,” said Randall Jackson, a partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz who worked as a federal prosecutor with Bragg. “Alvin is a person who is deeply rooted in his sense of public service, that he has been trying to do for his whole career.”

‘Follow the facts’

Two weeks before his office charged Trump with 34 felony counts, Bragg announced an indictment related to the Washington Heights shooting, using the same methods he applies to white collar crime.

“We knew someone was a driver of violence but didn’t have the evidence to bring it as a gun-trafficking case,” Bragg said. Instead, investigators noted the same person appeared to discuss on social media a separate scheme to steal tax and stimulus checks from the mail.

Prosecutors got a warrant for the suspect’s Instagram account where he communicated his scheme to steal checks, deposit the money, and withdraw it before any raised concerns about potential fraud. Bragg said prosecutors “followed the facts” and got a search warrant for the subject’s apartment, where they found a firearm.

Ballistic tests later proved that the weapon fired those shots in Washington Heights in August 2022.

An indictment soon followed — not only for a scheme to steal over $800,000 in checks but also for attempted murder.

Bragg said that, when it comes to New Yorkers’ perception of crime, part of his challenge is convincing people in relatively safe neighborhoods that crime numbers are going in the right direction.

“When I go to neighborhoods that have had historically high shootings, they know that shootings are down,” Bragg said. “I think there are parts of the borough that don’t see those advances.”

“It’s our job to not just drive these numbers down — but that people feel that,” the DA said.

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