September 16, 2014

Bratton to Council: On 2nd Thought, Another 1,000 Cops Sounds Good

Mayor: Wait ’til Next Year to Discuss


PATRICK J. LYNCH: Thousand more cops not enough.  

 You know those 1,000 cops you were pushing us to hire a few months ago? Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told the City Council last week. I’ve decided we need them after all. In fact, we need more.

Crime Down, Shootings Up

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James urged during budget discussions in May that the department hire another 1,000 officers, citing heavy spending for overtime and crime spikes in housing projects. While major crime is down about 4 percent overall, shootings were up 8 percent as of Aug. 31 compared with the first eight months of 2013.

Back in the spring, Mr. Bratton and Mayor de Blasio told the Council that the NYPD had sufficient staff. “My understanding in terms of discussions with the Mayor is that the funding is not there,” Mr. Bratton said at the time. “That’s the reality I deal with. The use of overtime, which is in the budget, is for our purposes at this time the better way to go.”

But at a Sept. 8 hearing on retraining officers on using force following the death of Eric Garner, he indicated that he had changed his tune. He said he had had additional time to determine the need for a bigger department.

“I reported to you that we were in the process of re-engineering the organization, and we would be looking very carefully at what should the size of [the] NYPD be, going forward,” he told the Council. “Was it 1,000, 2,000? We are in the process of closing in on those numbers, that it will be in excess of 1,000 additional officers we will be looking for.”

The department now has about 35,000 officers, down from 40,700 in 2001. Since he took office in January, Mr. Bratton has been studying how to re-engineer the department, a process he said is nearing completion.

Mayor Plays Cards Close

Mayor de Blasio, asked at a press conference about Mr. Bratton’s remarks, was noncommittal. “Again, this is such a common reality of a Commissioner expressing their wish list,” he said. “It never surprises me. But there’s been a constant dialogue with the Commissioner about the fact that when we get to a formal proposal, then that will be entered into our budget process, and we’ll make formal decisions.”

Mr. de Blasio’s budget for the current fiscal year kept police headcount, and NYPD spending in general, essentially flat. The budget did allow for the hiring of 200 civilians to free officers doing administrative work for patrol assignments, but Council Members had expressed a desire for 400 to 500.

The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, said more cops are definitely needed. “This union has been saying for a decade that the answer to quelling crime hotspots around the city is to hire adequate numbers of police officers to staff our station houses,” he said in a statement. “There are about 6,000 fewer police officers on our streets today than on 9/11/01, and while 1,000 more officers will help, it is nowhere near the number of officers that we need to bring us to the levels necessary to patrol communities and to safeguard against terrorist acts.

“Increased training helps us to do our job better and safer, but it pulls police officers from patrol, so in order to do more training you’ll need more officers to cover patrol posts. To keep New York City safe, City Hall has to make police staffing a priority.”

Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association, agreed that the size of the NYPD needed to increase. But, he noted, “It’s always good to have more cops, but they have to pay the cops they have before they do that.”

He was referring to stalled contract negotiations between his union and the city. The SBA and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association are refusing to accept the pattern set by civilian-employee unions.

Body Cameras Costly

Mr. Mullins said the NYPD was running into major cost issues in addition to the possible 1,000 new officers. One is the body-camera program, which Mr. Bratton wants to cover 15,000 to 20,000 patrol officers. The 60 cameras the department has purchased for its pilot program cost $1,000 each, and the Commissioner said that archiving the film on each one could cost hundreds of dollars a year.

The department is also far behind technologically on the training it uses, he said. For instance, while other departments use computerized equipment in their ranges, city officers are still shooting at paper targets.

Ms. Mark-Viverito said she was happy to hear Mr. Bratton agree that the Police Department should grow. “We welcome the recognition that the Council plays a role here, and we want to work in partnership to provide the NYPD with the necessary resources,” she said. “Many of us continue to believe that more personnel is necessary and there was an acknowledgment of that today.”

Robert Gangi, head of the Police Reform Organizing Project, disagreed, saying his group feels there is no need for additional officers. “There is an extraordinary waste of police resources now,” he said in an interview, explaining that “broken-windows” policing, which involves aggressive enforcement of minor violations, disproportionately targets minorities for things that most people would not consider dangerous to the community.

Plays the Maple Card

Advocates of broken-windows policing say that aggressive enforcement of minor issues discourages offenders from committing more serious crimes. Mr. Bratton has been a strong advocate of the strategy, although critics say statistical evidence to support it is lacking.

Mr. Gangi quoted one skeptic, the late Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, considered the architect of the Compstat system during Mr. Bratton’s first term as Police Commissioner in the mid-1990s: “The average squeegee man doesn’t start accepting contract murders when he detects a growing tolerance for squeegee men.”

Mr. Gangi said, “If there’s a determination that we need more officers, the city should deploy many of the officers doing broken-windows policing to deal with serious crime such as homicides and robberies.”

NYCLU Echoes Gangi

In testimony submitted to the Council, the New York Civil Liberties Union agreed with Mr. Gangi’s call, urging the lawmakers “to put an end to the NYPD’s needlessly aggressive enforcement of nonviolent, noncriminal infractions such as selling untaxed cigarettes, possessing an open container of alcohol, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, and possessing small amounts of marijuana. These violations account for almost half a million police encounters each year—all of which have the potential to turn violent and even deadly as in the case of Mr. Garner.”

Mr. Garner died shortly after police officers wrestled him to the ground while arresting him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island. Mr. Garner—who stood 6-foot-5, weighed 350 pounds, and suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma—had told police he would not go quietly. The Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the cause of death was compression of the neck and chest during the arrest.