A few hours after midnight on New Year’s Eve, 29-year-old Tyleek White was shot in a narrow hallway lined with Christmas lights in the Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. He was the first person murdered in New York City in 2019. The homicide ended a four-month period in which no one was killed in the 75th Precinct, one of 10 under the NYPD’s Brooklyn North command. It was the longest stretch without a murder since modern record-keeping began in 1993. But in the months after White’s death, homicides started to occur with alarming frequency in Brooklyn North. By early April, 21 people had been killed, nearly double the number of the previous winter.
New York is arguably safer than it’s ever been — 2018 saw the fewest murders in 70 years. But small clusters of extreme violence remain. Most homicides are still considered gang-related, but different crews, often defined by a single block or housing development, fight for control of diminishing ungentrified territory, with beefs starting as much on social media as on the street.
Brooklyn North allowed Rolling Stone to shadow its homicide detectives during these eventful months, following them into crime scenes and across the arc of investigations. Tensions between these communities and the NYPD run high, an unsurprising consequence of repeated incidents of police violence in minority neighborhoods. But a homicide detective’s ability to earn the trust of those touched by violence is imperative. “With all the advances — forensics and police science and computers — I think it makes it easier investigating cases,” says Detective Thomas Handley, a 27-year veteran of the NYPD. “But there’s tools like interrogations and talking to people — you know, a kid on the street — that come with time. . . . Everything works on trust in these investigations.”
Technology has changed the job — records that might have taken hours of footwork to obtain are available instantly — but other elements of the work are the same as ever. It’s still all-consuming. Detectives sometimes spend the night on a cot in the squad’s locker room. And they are haunted even by their successes. “You deal in death,” says Handley. “When we are good, it means we are good on someone’s loss. How does anyone feel victorious?”