New York Daily News

February 10, 2003

The thinning blue line

Loss of police on beat alarms chief of PBA


The number of patrol cops assigned to city precincts has fallen to "dangerous lows" not seen since the crime-plagued early 1990s, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association warned yesterday.

From 1995, when NYPD precincts were at the highest staffing levels, to last year, the department lost more than 2,300 patrol cops - enough to fill a dozen stationhouses, PBA President Patrick Lynch said.

"If this continues, and every precinct is understaffed, we will not be able to keep up with crime and we will return to the bad old days when the streets were out of control," Lynch told the Daily News.

The warning comes as Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly struggles to cut the NYPD's budget without laying off cops.

It also comes as the city's murder rate is at a four-decade low, and crime is down 8% this year - facts police officials were quick to note yesterday.

They also pointed out that while the ranks of patrol cops walking beats in precincts have been reduced, the number of officers assigned to specialized units such as counterterrorism, intelligence, narcotics and warrants squads is on the rise.

"The issue is not about how many police officers are assigned to precincts, the issue is how you best employ your resources," said NYPD spokesman Michael O'Looney.

"You have to look at the results, and the results are remarkable," O'Looney said.

'Facing real threat'

Still, Lynch looks back to June 1990, when there were 11,145 uniformed patrol cops on the streets - the year the city logged a record 2,245 slayings.

By 1995, the number of patrol cops had been boosted to a high of 15,210. The number had fallen to 12,855 by June 2002.

Overall, there are currently 37,200 cops on the force - down from 40,800 three years ago.

"On top of already being understaffed, we are facing the real threat of terrorism and pulling police officers from the neighborhood precincts to post them on sensitive locations," Lynch said. "We need to be increasing the Police Department, not cutting its numbers. ... Right now, the staffing levels are at dangerous lows."

Thomas Reppetto, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, said his group has become increasingly concerned about manpower.

In the early 1990s, patrol cops were virtually nonexistent, Reppetto said, when officers spent most of their time responding to 911 calls because of the high crime rate.

"The precincts are the backbone, the infantry of the Police Department," Reppetto said. "There needs to be enough police strength to prevent the crime. There need to be cops seen out on patrol to deter crime."

Mayor Bloomberg's spokesman, Ed Skyler, noted yesterday that 2,200 rookie cops graduated from the Police Academy last month. The class nearly had been axed because of budget woes.

"Crime has come down month after month despite what professional naysayers like Pat Lynch say," Skyler said.

PBA officials, however, said the number of rookies has not boosted staffing levels because nearly the same number of cops has retired or resigned from the force in the past six months.

In 1999, the PBA had 27,000 dues-paying members. As of last month, there were 23,000, said PBA spokesman Al O'Leary.

"The critical problem we have right now is the lack of cops assigned to the precincts to respond to emergencies, crimes in progress, and to do crime-deterring patrol," O'Leary said. "There simply are not enough cops."