American Police Beat October, 2002

Escapes Blamed on Cops

One of the problems with effective crime reduction programs is that police departments can wind up victims of their own success. Ten years ago no one would have noticed the 17 escapes by New York prisoners.

The day after police commissioner Ray Kelly announced the formation of a task force to address the apparent epidemic of escaped prisoners, police union president Patrick Lynch blamed the problem in part on overworked cops. You can't ask the force to do what it's done since 9/11 without some tired bodies.

"Given the serious shortage of police officers, the lousy equipment and horribly designed police and hospital facilities, it is a testimony to the good work of police officers that so few prisoners have escaped," Lynch said.

So far this year, there have been 17 escapes from NYPD custody and four attempted escapes, including eight escapes in the past two months.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the department for the perceived epidemic of escapes. But appearances can be deceiving. With crime still very low in the city formerly known for her dangers, escapes by ordinary criminals can seem like an awfully big deal.

But recently, Kelly held a news conference in which he produced graphs and charts to show that the number of escapees was in fact no more than in recent years.

Kelly added that the apparent rash of escapes hurt the department's image and said tha t the officers who allow prisoners to escape could face suspension.

But officers in the NYPD arrest hundreds of thousands of people every year and the percentage of those people who escape is extremely low.