Chief-Leader
Updated: 5:31 pm, Mon Jun 8, 2015.

 

Editorial: Don't Wait on Adding Cops

By RICHARD STEIER

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll find out whether Mayor de Blasio is really serious in his continued insistence that the city doesn’t need 1,000 additional cops to deal with a significant rise in murders and shootings this year, or whether, contrary to his past statements on the subject, this is just another tactical step in the budget dance he swore to discontinue after taking office.

If he means business, however, we have to wonder what is going through his mind.

It’s true, as the Mayor reiterated last week, that overall crime is down in the city. But shootings and murders are the worst categories in which to be showing increases, and summer weather—in which there generally is an increase in that kind of mayhem—has only recently arrived.

And so it was a bit ominous when the NYPD’s top uniformed commander, Chief of Department James O’Neill, told reporters June 1, “We’re struggling with homicides and shootings.”

In response, the NYPD this week began shifting 300 cops from desk duty to patrol to provide reinforcements in the city’s most-troubled neighborhoods. That strategy last year was successful in curbing a rising murder rate, and it might be again. But Chief O’Neill hardly sounded philosophical about the situation.

It is one thing for Commissioner Bill Bratton to try to frame the issue by calling the rise in murders a case of “career criminals killing and shooting other career criminals.” For the Mayor to echo that in justifying not authorizing additional police hiring is troubling, however.

Even if the only victims were bad people, that dismissal of what was going on gave no thought to the psychic toll being taken in the neighborhoods where the killings were occurring. And while we might wish that bad guys intent on killing their brethren were crack shots who always hit their target, that isn’t the case. There have already been a few “citizens,” from teenage bystanders to middle-aged people, struck by stray shots.

Sergeants’ Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins last week invoked the name of Brian Watkins, the young Utah tourist who was fatally stabbed in a Midtown subway station 25 years ago while defending his mother from muggers, as the kind of shocking crime that could transform the sense of safety people feel in most parts of the city into the sort of alarm that scares off tourists and makes residents alter their normal routines.

The truth is that the Watkins case was an anomaly in that summer of heart-wrenching killings that prompted the New York Post to run a banner headline urging then-Mayor Dinkins, “Dave, Do Something!” Mr. Dinkins had the especially bad luck in mid-1990 to have several of the unintended victims of the street shootings turn out to be small children as young as 2 years old. When that starts happening with some regularity, you get headlines like the one on the cover of Time Magazine that Mr. Dinkins decried, labeling New York “Dodge City.”

The police force is about 6,500 below its peak of nearly 41,000 at the beginning of 2001, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s last year in office. Some city officials then privately contended that the force had become bloated, with overlapping functions among officers actually hurting efficiency.

But with all the cuts made during the Bloomberg years, even as cops were being diverted from normal patrol duties to be part of the city’s stepped-up anti-terrorism activity following 9/11, there is a case to be made that the department has been cut too much. There are stories of precincts with just a single patrol car operating during overnight tours. It has been suspected that then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stepped up stop-and-frisk activities, in which quotas led more than a few cops to disregard the legal basis for making such stops, in part to compensate for having fewer officers available.

Stops have dropped precipitously in the 17 months since Mr. de Blasio became Mayor, on top of the sharp decline during Michael Bloomberg’s final two years in office. Word is that the NYPD under Mr. Bratton has emphasized to officers that they should follow the law in deciding when a stop is justified. It’s possible some cops have overcorrected, and in borderline cases have refrained from making stops because they feared being admonished if they turned out to be unjustified. But the rise in shootings certainly suggests that some criminals are not as wary of being caught with a firearm as they were in the past.

Most of the victims of the shootings have been minorities—as have been most of the shooters—in some long-troubled city neighborhoods. But there’s little solace to be taken from the notion that the problem is relatively confined—and certainly not by a Mayor who strongly subscribes to the slogan “Black lives matter.”

If Mr. de Blasio trusts his Police Commissioner’s judgment, then at a time when the city budget is in good shape, he should be finding the money to provide the additional cops. The alternative is to wait until the situation worsens before acting because politically speaking, he has no choice.