The Chief
November 8, 2002

Crackdown On Homeless Isn’t Our Job – PBA

By Mark Daly

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch, fighting a rearguard action against budget cutting that would shrink his membership, criticized Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Department for dispatching police to sweep homeless people off the streets.

“They should be prioritizing at a time when we have a real threat of terrorism and crime is rearing its head,” said Mr. Lynch, who called for Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to defy budget prescriptions and increase the number of beat cops and special crime task forces, while leaving homelessness to “social workers”.

Mayor Bloomberg last week announced a plan to count the city’s homeless population, which appears to have doubled in the last two years. The Department of Homeless Services is struggling to house a record 37,000 homeless people every night.

After acknowledging earlier in the week that homelessness had grown, Mr. Bloomberg hedged on the issue and said the NYPD would continue its crackdown while a survey determines the facts.

“Perception is as important as the actual facts,” said the Mayor. “We want to make sure the public can go about their business and not be hassled.”

Police supervisors have been assigned to check up on cops in the field to make sure they respond to a homeless call.

The supervisors called in the complaint themselves while they were out checking enforcement of “quality-of-life” crimes. A patrol car ignored the call to the scene, Mr. Kelly said.

Sweeping Up the Pieces

Mr. Lynch complained the homeless crackdown required cops to pick up the pieces of a broken social-services system. “When all the other agencies fail, it falls on the shoulders of the police officers out there in the field. And to discipline us on top of that? That’s just wrong.”

The homeless have been among the quality-of-life issues targeted since February in Operation Clean Sweep. Mr. Kelly also has expanded the Homeless Outreach Unit to 80 cops and placed them under one chief, Michael Scagnelli. The unit sends out vans to round up the homeless and deliver them to shelters.

The new crackdown is occurring even as a flood of retirements and resignations is shrinking the department, Mr. Lynch said. The PBA is down to 24,800 members, from a recent high of 29,000. The union also is beginning a new contract fight after receiving a 24-month arbitration award in September that provided 10 percent in raises through July 31, 2001. The final 1.5 percent in wage-related compensation in that award is still being negotiated.

This year the union suffered the blow of having a Police Officer hiring class postponed from July to January. Commissioner Kelly also disbanded the last remnants of the Street Crime Unit, which focused on illegal weapons and violent offenders, in order to beef up precinct Detective squads.

“There is absolutely no way that we can continue to bring crime down without the manpower,” said Mr. Lynch.