New York may well be the world’s safest big city, but that does not, of course, mean the streets are crime free. A recent spate of shootings should remind us that the war on crime remains ongoing, even after the historic successes of the past two decades.
Shootings are up by more than 25 percent over the past four weeks compared with the same period last year. New Yorkers clearly have scandalously easy access to firearms despite the city’s strict gun laws, and far too many of those firearms are in the hands of murderous thugs who think nothing of opening fire in the presence of innocents, including children. A Brooklyn mother of 12, Zurana Horton, was cut down in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn the other day. She died while protecting one of her children from gun violence that remains the curse of so many of the city’s less fortunate neighborhoods.
The New York Police Department, which has been so successful in bringing the city’s murder rate to historic lows, currently faces more than a few challenges, not least of which is maintaining order in downtown Manhattan while demonstrators exercise their constitutional right to protest without end and with no apparent goal in mind. What’s more, there are a lot fewer officers on the streets these days. Thanks to budget cuts, head count in the N.Y.P.D. is down to about 35,000. In the mid-1990s, as Rudolph Giuliani was ramping up his anticrime strategy, police head count was 41,000.
It falls to current Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, then, to do more with less. That is no small assignment, given the extraordinary difficulties of policing in the 21st century. Under Mr. Kelly’s watch, the N.Y.P.D’.s mission has expanded to include counterintelligence and counterterrorism as the threats to public safety have gone global since 9/11. More recently, the commissioner’s troops have been called on to keep a rein on the passionate anarchy of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
The police have come in for no small amount of criticism in performing these tasks. Some of it may be justified, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a larger truth: the city’s prosperity depends on the competence, creativity and, yes, toughness of New York’s Finest.
That important fact doesn’t excuse unprofessional behavior or violations of civil liberties. But it should remind us of how much we rely on an agency that has suffered significant cuts in manpower and resources in recent years.
Ray Kelly’s tenure as police commissioner has earned him far more praise than criticism, and rightly so. In fact, there is talk that he may yet run for mayor in 2013. His candidacy surely would introduce a dose of competency into a lackluster field. But first the commissioner must ensure that this month’s string of shootings becomes a statistical aberration. The city cannot afford to take even a single step back toward the bad old days of murder and mayhem.
This miniwave of violence already has claimed too many tragic victims.