Mayor Bloomberg recently put all of his commissioners on notice that they have to figure out a way to cut their budgets in anticipation of a $2.5 billion budget shortfall in the coming months. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was asked to submit a new spending plan that includes a cut of some 2.7 percent in the current fiscal year and 4 percent next year. Other agencies have been asked to produce similar, and sometimes even larger, reductions, but it’s the NYPD’s cuts that have many politicians crying foul.
In one respect, that’s not such a bad thing. As the city approaches the 20th anniversary of Rudy Giuliani’s historic election as mayor in 1993, it’s important to remember how much the city’s political dialogue has changed in the last two decades. Many people in the early 1990s seemed to believe that high crime was simply inevitable in New York, and that there was little the NYPD could do about that.
Mr. Giuliani, of course, showed that a well-trained, smartly led police force really could make a difference in every neighborhood, on every street corner, in all five boroughs. As crime continued its amazing decline during the Bloomberg years, politicians have been quick to emphasize their commitment to public safety and quality-of-life issues.
That’s great, but when the city is facing a huge deficit, even the police have to be asked to do more with less. Even the police have to be more efficient and better managed. Mr. Bloomberg has said as much to the NYPD—and he clearly believes that Commissioner Kelly will find a way to make it happen.
As might be expected in the early stages of a mayoral campaign, some politicians have been quick to criticize the pending cuts to the NYPD’s budget. Christine Quinn, the Council speaker, and Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, are expected to face each other in next year’s Democratic mayoral primary, but that didn’t stop them from appearing together at a recent news conference to warn against the mayor’s spending reductions.
Ms. Quinn and Mr. Stringer cited several recent sexual assaults in city parks as evidence of the perils of budget-cutting. “Given the recent string of sexual assaults in our city’s parks,” Ms. Quinn said, “it is paramount that the budgets for the NYPD and the Parks Department remain untouched. Now is not the time to consider cutting the vital services we need to keep New Yorkers safe.”
Public safety certainly is important—indeed, it has been the key to the city’s resurgence since the early 1990s. But if now is not the time to cut, then when? When the deficit balloons to $3 billion, or $4 billion?
Weak political leaders are content to borrow money and pretend that all is well. Strong leaders put in place equally strong managers who can figure out how to become more efficient when times are tough.
The city has to figure out a way to close a $2.5 billion budget gap. So now is, in fact, the time to consider cutting services, even to the police.
The folks in Washington have managed to avoid these kinds of tough decisions. And how are they doing?