NYPD Blues

Everybody knows about New York’s remarkable success in fighting crime over the past 15 years. The reasons for that success are equally well known: Strong leadership, and smart cops. Lots and lots of smart cops.

The city has not exhausted its ability to produce first-class leaders who understand the importance of public safety. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has improved on the Giuliani administration’s astonishing accomplishments over the past eight years. Crime continues to drop, and the city continues to enjoy a well-earned reputation as the safest big city in the world. Quite a claim.

While the city still has strong leadership, there are signs that the other part of the equation may suffer as the city’s budget becomes tighter. New York still has smart cops—the best-trained police department in the world. The trouble is that there aren’t as many of them as there once was.

Thanks to the appalling shenanigans in Albany, Mayor Bloomberg imposed a hiring freeze on July 6. As a result, a class of 250 new police officers was not sworn in on Wednesday, July 8. Those new cops are desperately needed. The number of officers is down to about 35,000, compared with about 40,000 in 2001. Making matters worse, the NYPD has had to lay off civilian workers, which could result in officers pushing paper rather than patrolling the streets.

The city simply cannot afford any backsliding on crime. Residents and visitors alike have come to expect safe streets and communities. The specter of the nation’s second-largest city is instructive. Over the recent holiday weekend, 10 people in Chicago were murdered and another 30 wounded in violent incidents. Those who contend that New York’s drop in crime is simply part of a national trend are wrong—Chicago has seen upticks in murders and other crime in recent years. Other cities have as well. In New York, however, overall crime continues to decrease.

That situation could change if Commissioner Kelly and other NYPD leaders aren’t given the resources, especially manpower, needed to do the job. Mayor Bloomberg certainly has had tough choices to make over the last year, and he’s not getting any help from Albany. Still, it would be a mistake for City Hall to assume that Mr. Kelly can do more with less.

History suggests otherwise. Dramatic cuts to the NYPD’s patrol strength will lead inevitably to more bad guys on the street. If crime begins to spike, you can expect to see moving vans in many of our recently revived neighborhoods.

Crime-fighting can’t be done without cops. It’s really that simple.