At the height of Times Square’s “bad old days,” prostitution, child exploitation and drugs were on every corner and there was so much blood-soaked violence, only Broadway was barely hanging on as a tourist destination.
The Crossroads of the World has long since cleaned up its act but experts say recent broad-daylight shootings in the tourist hub reflect a new crime wave that’s beginning to envelop every pocket of the five boroughs — even the ones that have long been considered safe.
“The Times Square shootings are a wake-up call on how far things have deteriorated in the city,” Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor and the deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, told The Post.
“The latest shooting in Times Square is only going to feed the perception, if not the reality, that the city is far less safe.”
Back in those original bad old days, the NYPD did not track shootings the way they do now — only homicides and other major crimes. The Big Apple’s deadliest year in terms of crime was in 1990, when 2,245 murders were reported citywide, compared to 212 seen so far this year.
Christopher Herrmann, a shootings and homicide expert from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said comparing the crime in the 1980s and ‘90s to the surge in shootings seen today is like comparing “apples to autoparts” but the gun violence is cause for concern.
Considering incidents of gunplay are up 53 percent so far this year, compared to last, “you’re going to get some shootings in Times Square,” Herrmann told The Post.
“It’s just a numbers game … you’re going to get some, you know, events that normally don’t happen, in places that normally don’t have shootings.”
On Sunday, Samuel Poulin, a 21-year-old Marine tourist, was hit by a stray bullet near West 45th Street and Broadway while walking with his family and, in May, a 4-year-old girl and two women were hit about a block away.
So far in 2021, there have been three shootings in Times Square, compared to zero in 2020, though the city spent most of that year shutdown due to the COVID-19 crisis.
”Things were going steadily downhill before COVID, that just made it 100 times worse,” a Manhattan-based police officer told The Post.
“The city put hundreds of extra people in Midtown who needed a lot more than a room and offered them no services. It was like the dawn of the dead,” the cop went on, referring to the city’s push to move homeless New Yorkers into Midtown hotels amid the pandemic.
Two other Manhattan cops said bail reform has only compounded the problem.
“People are not afraid to carry a gun, and the slightest dispute leads to shots fired, sometimes wounding innocent people or worse,” one officer said.
“Bail laws allow people to get arrested with a gun and go home for dinner,” the other added.
A high-ranking law enforcement source with more than three decades on the job said crime is “absolutely” returning to how it was in the past.
“These guys are bold enough to have a gun in Times Square,” the source griped.
He said cops on the ground are downplaying the crimes tourists report to keep up the semblance that the area is safe.
“Depending on who you report it to, [they’ll ask] ‘Well, was there any force used?’” the source said.
“We wouldn’t want all the European tourists and people from Iowa thinking they can’t come to Time Square because of the criminals. Can’t do that,” the source added sarcastically.
As the Big Apple looks to bounce back from the COVID-19 lockdown, quelling crime in its biggest tourist hub is making some out-of-towners reconsider their choice to visit.
“I don’t feel comfortable like in the past. I would walk through [Times Square] every chance I get,” one woman from Seattle, who declined to share her name, told The Post Tuesday.
“I am afraid,” added Madison Ann, 23, a recent college graduate from Texas. “We don’t come here at night.”
Others, like Angela Walker, said the rising crime wouldn’t stop her from seeing the sights.
“It’s just as bad in DC. I’m not afraid,” the 64-year-old civil servant said as she waited to catch a train. “Either you are going to get out and live your life or stay in the house, then you’re just hiding out. I’m not doing that.”
So far in 2021, there have been 232 crime incidents in Times Square proper, including 22 felony assaults, five sex crimes and one rape, representing 5 percent of total crimes reported across the two precincts that cover it, CompStat data shows.
Even a costumed Minnie Mouse toiling in Times Square was socked in the face in January and the suspect — a homeless man who lived at a nearby shelter — was back on the streets less than 24 hours after the attack, cops said at the time.
Quality-of-life issues have also been popping up in and around the heart of New York City.
On Sunday, as cops investigated the latest shooting, a man was seen hawking plastic baggies filled with Hennessy — $10 for one bag, or four for $20.
Last month, a crew of squeegee men, a relic of New York’s worst days, were spotted aggressively soaking windshields on the edge of Times Square and were back the next day until cops chased them off.
Meanwhile, as the summer wears on, shootings are only expected to get worse citywide, said Herrmann.
“The bad news is, gun violence peaks in New York City in August… the numbers are going to continue to get worse until August and then we’ll start to see them go down in September. That’s the good news,” Herrmann said.
“This is where the ‘defund the police movement’ really starts to play into this conversation … defunding the police in the middle of this kind of shooting and homicide problem that we’re having is like defunding the hospitals during the pandemic. Like, why would we ever think about doing that?”
Additional reporting by Joe Marino and Georgett Roberts