Chief-Leader
September 4, 2015 4:45 pm

 

Editorial:
2 Top Cops and a Mayor

By RICHARD STEIER

Mayor de Blasio found himself at odds last week with two Police Commissioners: his own, Bill Bratton, and the one who became a key target of his 2013 campaign, Ray Kelly.

In a just-published memoir, Mr. Kelly accused the Mayor of having portrayed cops as “cartoonish villains” and running “against the police” to win election and then of abandoning “a routine and useful policing tool” in the form of stop-and-frisk.

With those descriptions, the former Commissioner was himself engaging in caricature. And for some reason he continues to shy away from the uncomfortable truth that by far the greatest numerical reductions in stop-and-frisk occurred during his watch in the final two years of the Bloomberg administration.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has attributed the decline from a record 685,000 stops in 2011 to just 191,000 in 2013 to a memo the then-Commissioner sent to all officers in the early spring of 2012 telling them to cease looking to make stops in bulk and instead focus on “quality” ones. The union and its members translated this to mean that the NYPD had called off the quotas that were in place for stops.

It’s possible this step was taken because a lawsuit challenging the legality of the manner in which the department was carrying out stops had begun to gain momentum—less than 18 months later a U.S. District Judge would rule that too often they had been conducted in an unconstitutional fashion. We’d like to believe that independent of that pressure, the growing complaints by critics prompted Mr. Kelly, an intelligent if sometimes stubborn man, to question whether the program—which produced just 97,000 stops during Michael Bloomberg’s first year in office—had gotten out of hand.

Whatever the motivation, what was striking was that even as defenders of stop-and-frisk, from newspaper editorial boards to the Mayor and Police Commissioner, warned that relaxing the aggressive enforcement could usher in a new crime wave, murders continued to decline by impressive percentages. That essentially proved the point made by critics of the program: that the oppressive climate created in some city neighborhoods was a consequence not of aggressive policing, but of a foolishly-aggressive execution of what is, as Mr. Kelly puts it, a “useful policing tool,” when properly and legally deployed.

Does he have a right to be angry that Mr. de Blasio during the campaign portrayed him in a more-negative light than his overall performance over 12 years as commissioner warranted? Yes. But that’s politics, as the image-conscious Mr. Kelly knows.

And statistics released last week by the NYPD indicated that if stops had been relaxed too much during the de Blasio administration, with the result being fewer guns getting taken off the street by cops and shootings and murders rising, an adjustment made recently has responded to the problem. NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Operations Dermot Shea told reporters at Police Headquarters that for the period from June through August, a focus on gun busts had led to an 8-percent increase in firearms recoveries compared to the same period in 2014.

Mr. de Blasio also crossed swords with Mr. Bratton, if lightly, over the Police Commissioner’s remark on MSNBC that a report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan 50 years ago on an emerging crisis of black families without a male head of household was both prescient and still relevant today.

Asked about that remark, the Mayor stated, “I happen to disagree,” saying that changes over the past 50 years meant “there are some assumptions in that report that just don’t hold today.”

Mr. Bratton held his ground, though, even while looking to expand his remarks by saying that among white and Latino youths as well, “the value structure is not there. We have too many young people killing each other over nothing.”

Refining his position in that fashion made the remark less of a racial flashpoint, while also reminding us that most of the young people who have engaged in mass killings across the United States have been white. But while the body counts for individual incidents aren’t as great, there is the slow-but-corrosive accumulation of murder victims in too many predominantly black neighborhoods across the nation, some of them in pockets of New York that are easily identifiable.

To some degree racism and a lack of hope in some poorer neighborhoods are factors. But it is also true that many people grow up in poverty and manage to make solid, honest lives for themselves in spite of those conditions. Those who take other paths and engage in crime or are afflicted by substance-abuse problems are more likely to come from homes without positive adult male role models. It doesn’t mean single parents in some cases don’t work wonders in bringing their kids up right and preventing them from finding the trouble that’s lurking, but their job is infinitely harder.

That was at the heart of Mr. Moynihan’s report, and the hard, controversial truth in it remains relevant today.