The New York Police Department is about to be smaller than at any time since the early 1990’s. Is there anyone who could possibly think this is a good thing?
There are currently 35,800 officers on the job today—a number that is already somewhat low because of a recruitment crisis. The current cap the Bloomberg administration has in place is 37,838 officers. Rather than invest and recruit to fill that gap of 2,000 officers—perhaps by boosting the starting salary from its current $25,100—City Hall proposes lowering the cap to 36,838, effectively removing funding for 1,000 cops. Given the recruitment drop and planned retirements, it looks like the force will number 34,624 this summer, the lowest number since June 1993.
This is not the time to trim the police force. There has been no greater achievement in the city over the past 20 years than the impressive, continuous improvement in public safety. New York is regularly ranked the safest large city in the country. What a long way we have come since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when a crack cocaine epidemic, lax law enforcement, a police department still suffering from cuts imposed during the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s and a weak economy created a climate in which crime flourished and defined the city in lurid and ugly headlines for the nation and the world.
The subsequent drop in crime—a result of the expansion of the NYPD under David Dinkins and the technological advances in crime fighting, such as CompStat, under Rudolph Giuliani—allowed Mayor Michael Bloomberg to build on that success and preside over a profoundly different city than many of us knew two decades ago. Not only is crime at levels not seen since the early 1960’s, but Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have achieved those results without the corrosive racial conflicts or upticks in police brutality that often accompany so-called “law and order” administrations.
The low crime rate has made itself profoundly felt in every aspect of New York life. Families have chosen to put down roots rather than flee to the suburbs; previously blighted areas have become thriving residential communities; our local universities are showing record numbers of applications; corporations have redrawn the skyline with soaring towers; and big-spending tourists crowd our streets all year long. The city’s remarkable economic revival after 9/11 could not have happened without the low crime rate.
Which brings up another reason why cutting money from the police force is a misguided idea: in addition to locking up bad guys and thwarting crimes, the NYPD is the front line of the city’s defense against terrorism. The F.B.I. has noted that New York cops could give lessons to the rest of the world on counterterrorism measures. Is this really where we want to skimp?
As Commissioner Kelly noted last week, applying budget cuts to the NYPD is playing with fire. Crime is like a loose thread—tug hard enough, and the city’s whole fabric can unravel.
We cannot risk further cuts to the NYPD. Clearly, the Bloomberg administration can find other municipal services to shrink—how about the chauffeurs assigned to city commissioners, or the technocrats who populate the economic development agencies? Or the antismoking and trans-fat zealots in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene?
The low crime rate is a precious resource that has been aggressively cultivated through three mayoral administrations. Now is not the time to gamble with success.