New York Daily News

January 14, 2003

The NYPD needs help, not more budget cuts

By PATRICK J. LYNCH

Effective police services are so fundamentally linked to the economic health of our city and to every citizen's right to pursue life, liberty and happiness that it brings the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association to one conclusion: There ought to be a law.

This city needs to legally protect police resources from the politics of the budget, establish minimum effective police staffing levels and create a dedicated stream of funding to pay for police services.

Police protection is not something you need only when you can afford it. It's something we can't afford to be without. Police budgets should be funded first and fully - at the expense of all else - and should be protected from the ebb and flow of our economy.

Am I suggesting that police services are more important than, say, education, housing or hospitals? Well, none of these services can thrive in a crime-ridden environment. Because safety is critical to each, police resources should not compete with them for funding.

Most New Yorkers understand that we need safe streets for the city to work. But you can't maintain safe streets without a strong, well-trained, well-equipped police department. We've lost nearly 4,000 police officers (3,922, to be exact) from our streets since 1999. That is an undeniable fact.

Although crime is down dramatically, according to felony crime statistics, the massive reduction of police officers has resulted in what Commissioner Raymond Kelly calls crime hot spots, where Operation Impact is being focused. Shootings, for example, are up in the 77th Precinct - where Operation Impact was launched - by 41%, but felony crime stats there are down. That's because every shooting is not a felony, yet nothing is more dangerous to a community than shots fired. So felony crime cannot be the only measure of safety in a neighborhood.

Operation Impact is a Band-Aid response to the crime spike that has resulted from a serious reduction in police resources. It's a short-term attempt to solve a long-term problem. We would not have those hot spots if adequate police staffing were maintained.

If the city continues to cut police resources and staffing, we'll be condemned to return to the days of high crime and economic depression. We've lived through this before, after the fiscal crunch of the '70s, and we don't want to live through it again.

The Safe Streets, Safe City program demonstrated that New Yorkers are willing to pay for adequate police protection and that there is a correlation between police resources and crime. Kelly was at the helm when that program began the unparalleled reduction in big-city crime. Give him the resources to continue that job. However, any new program has to have one major difference. It has to be permanent program to spare the police budget and public safety from future risk.

Mayor Bloomberg doesn't yet understand the basic importance of police services to our city. If he did, he wouldn't even suggest more cuts to the police budget. We must protect police resources from the politics of the budget to guarantee the safe streets that make the city viable.

There ought to be a law.

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.