New York Daily News

March 20, 2008 

Budget ax will force NYPD to slash ranks to lowest level in 16 years

BY KERRY BURKE and FRANK LOMBARDI
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

The Police Department's thin blue line is getting slimmer.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday budget cuts will reduce the force by another 1,000 cops - resulting in the smallest department in 16 years.

On paper at least, the authorized budgeted head count will drop to 36,838 officers until July 2009, when the 1,000 cops could be restored if the city's financial health is better.

The cuts - all by attrition - raised fears the NYPD is stretching its manpower too thin and won't be able to keep reducing crime.

Crime fell last year by another 6% - a 26% drop since 2001.

Kelly told a City Council budget hearing yesterday the reduction "will not affect current operations."

But, he added: "Does it put pressure on us? Absolutely!"

Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Queens), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the cuts would be felt.

"We have stretched our resources as far as we can go," he said. "We are at the breaking point. We cannot go any further without seeing an increase in crime."

His sentiments were shared by residents of Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the force reduction generated incredulity.

"Why should we have fewer cops?" asked Peter Brooks, 58, a truck driver. "Crime hasn't gone away. How could they even think like that!"

"The crime rate is only going to go up," said Doris Washington, 62, a retired nurse's aide. "We need more cops to walk the beat. It should be about the safety of the people, not the money."

The head count regularly shrinks during the year because of attrition. Right now the NYPD's actual head count is "about 35,800," Kelly said.

It will reach the new 36,838 authorized level only when 1,817 rookies will be hired in July.

Kelly said the NYPD has shrunk by 5,000 cops since shortly before the 9/11 attacks.

The last time the NYPD had fewer than 36,000 cops was in 1992, when there were 35,802 officers, according to Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

The 1,000-officer reduction will save $37.3 million.

The NYPD has a proposed $3.9 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Kelly had to slash $187 million to comply with the 5% citywide budget slash ordered by Mayor Bloomberg in January.

All city agencies have been asked to prepare for another 3% in cuts if state aide is reduced. Kelly declined to say if that would mean more job cuts.

He said reducing the authorized strength is a sensible way of temporarily making budget cuts because the NYPD has had trouble attracting recruits, largely because of the puny $25,100 starting salary a state arbitrator set in 2005.

kburke@nydailynews.com