Safety Remains City's Job No. 1
MAYOR Bloomberg yesterday announced that, as part of an emergency hiring freeze, hes delaying indefinitely the new class of 250 police recruits who were due to be sworn in tomorrow.
This is a terrible sign for the citys future. Todays budget woes simply must not be allowed to jeopardize the NYPDs ability to keep crime rates low.
New Yorks victory over crime in the 1990s triggered a bust-to-boom revival. If lawlessness had remained at its early 90s levels, the city by now would be close to a ghost town.
In 1990, murders in New York City reached an all-time annual high of 2,262. Six years later, theyd dropped over 56 percent, to 984. By 2008, homicides were down nearly 77 percent, to 523, and all felony crime was down over 77 percent.
The turnaround in the citys public image was equally dramatic. As the 90s began, the national media were proclaiming New York a disaster zone. News reports recounted the brutality of its rampaging youth packs, the chaos of its streets and the devastating decline in public services. But by 1996, the line had changed radically: THE BIG APPLE COMES ROARING BACK, declared US News and World Report. The city showed that “winning the war against crime” was possible, Time proclaimed.
THIS image-reversal paid off royally. From 1991 to 97, the number of tourists visiting New York rose 39 percent, to nearly 32 million. The citys universities were deluged with applications. Cutting-edge restaurants opened in what used to be forlorn drug outposts in Manhattan and Brooklyn, bringing more development in their wake.
Real-estate values blasted off in 1998, rising most where crime fell the furthest. Job growth revved up in 1997, stalled after the dot-com bust of 2000 and the 9/11 terror attacks, but then resumed its upward trajectory from 2003 to 2008.
But though New York policing underwent a revolution in 1994, vast swaths of the criminology profession and the press continue to deny that that revolution was responsible for the crime drop. They are wrong -- and dangerously so.
The transformation of New York policing is the overwhelming reason why the crime rate went into free fall in 1994. And that transformation, in turn, was aided by an increase in force size.
ON taking control of the New York Po lice Department in 1994, Police Com missioner William Brattons most startling move was to announce that he would lower crime in his first year by 10 percent.
No chief in living memory had ever made so reckless a pledge -- but it signaled Brattons total break with the criminology professions reigning ideology: that crime is an understandable reaction to inequality and racism and that policing can do little to lower it.
Bratton actually beat his target, bringing crime down 12 percent in 1994, while crime nationally dropped 1 percent. The next year, he upped the ante, promising a 15 percent drop and delivering 16 percent (even as crime stayed flat in the rest of the country).
The NYPD achieved this unprecedented feat by the managerial breakthrough that came to be known as CompStat. Visionary strategists Jack Maple and Louis Anemone turned the department into a data-driven crime-fighting machine.
Using ever more sophisticated crime-mapping technologies, police leaders could evaluate on a daily basis which strategies were working. Commanders were held ruthlessly accountable for the safety of their precincts. Top brass grilled them on their stats in weekly meetings at headquarters, reinforcing the message that the police could and would lower crime.
Crime went into free fall -- and hasnt stopped dropping since.
The most unexpected effect came in the citys most troubled neighborhoods, where a virtuous cycle set in. Investors started building housing on vacant lots that had served as breeding grounds for disorder and lawlessness. The new residents stabilized their neighborhoods further. National chains moved into areas that theyd shunned for decades.
And more than 10,000 minority males were saved from the bullets that wouldve taken their lives had homicide levels remained at their early-90s levels.
THE philosophical core of New Yorks crime rout remains intact and recession-proof. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is committed to the idea that cops have the duty and the capacity to lower crime. From 2001 through early May, he brought felony crime down 37 percent.
But budget cuts have almost eliminated the vital increase in the size of the officer corps that assisted him in doing so. From its all-time high of 40,311 officers in 2000, the department in mid-2009 was down to 35,758. By 2010, the NYPD will drop to 34,117 officers -- almost as few as at the start of the 90s.
Though strategy matters more than size when it comes to policing, size can bolster the right strategy enormously. The NYPD floods zones of rising crime with officers. Their mere presence deters thugs, while their citations for quality-of-life offenses often nab more serious offenders wanted on outstanding warrants.
The staffing cuts shouldnt just end -- they should be reversed. The NYPD isnt just one city agency among equals -- its the cornerstone on which New Yorks economic viability depends.
If crime starts going up and stays up, the entrepreneurs who still plan to open restaurants and stores in the near future should -- and would -- recalibrate their chances of economic success.
IN the long run, funding to bring the force back up to its late-90s levels should be found within the police budget itself. Whoppingly large police pensions, along with those of other city employees, are bankrupting the city. Officers can now retire after 20 years on the force -- at age 42, say -- take another job (including in another police department), and collect half their average NYPD salary for the rest of their lives.
Recent police retirees pull in an average of $56,000 a year in pension benefits. They also get an extra $12,000-a-year “bonus” and free health insurance.
To fund the NYPDs pension obligations, the city sets aside another 50 percent of the average cops salary for each working officer -- inflating the costs of running the department by 50 percent. If the citys police pension contributions were cut to just 25 percent of current salaries, the force could add 3,500 officers at no extra cost.
In the short term, however, the money must come from reorienting the city budget toward the core functions of government and away from ineffective social-uplift projects.
New York City spends more than $400 million a year, for example, on free apartments for less than 1 percent of the city population -- about 8,800 young single mothers with children who claim homelessness, which often means that they no longer want to live with their own single mothers. Cut that subsidy for fatherless families in half, and the city could fund more than 2,000 police recruits.
THE press and the criminology profession, still in thrall to the idea that crime is an understandable response to economic inequality and social injustice, are gleefully predicting that New Yorks crime rate will rise during the recession. The NYPD is fully prepared to prove them wrong -- so long as it has the resources to do so.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/07072009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/dont_cut_cops_177980.htm?page=0