New York Daily News

December 11, 2008 


Pols must remember that
it’s better to be safe than sorry

By Patrick J. Lynch

Thursday, December 11, 2008

While Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council wrangle over homeowners' tax rebates and possible tax increases, both sides must be careful not to play the very dangerous game of ignoring the critical role of the NYPD in crimefighting and prevention.

The fine work of NYPD officers is the reason for the downward spiral of crime over the past decade. Sadly, that trend may be coming to an end as the murder rate inches upward in many neighborhoods. Now, it appears the administration plans to cancel next month's Police Academy class of 1,100 officers.

This is no time for our politicians to be contemplating — much less proposing — the elimination of Police Academy classes. Doing so could force this city back to the way things were in 1990, when Brian Watkins, a 22-year-old tourist from Provo, Utah, was on an E train subway platform with his parents and other relatives heading out for a night on the town on what had been a very enjoyable vacation to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The group's good time was shattered when a gang of thugs surrounded them during a robbery. In the ensuing melee, Watkins, attempting to defend his mother, was knifed to death.

And let's not forget a similar case last month.

On the afternoon of Nov. 15, in the lobby of a jewelry store at the tourist-filled Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Gregory Boyle, a 54-year-old retired NYPD detective working security, was shot in a brazen robbery attempt. Boyle's bravery foiled the robbery and, fortunately, he survived.

Although separated by almost two decades and in starkly different crime-rate contexts, the incidents may have more in common than we would like to believe.

The Watkins murder embodied every out-of-towner's nightmare of crime in the New York City of those mayhem-stricken times. And it was one of the factors that led to the passage of state legislation known as Safe Streets, Safe City, strongly supported by the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The program ultimately enabled the ranks of the NYPD to swell to a high of 40,285 uniformed officers on June 30, 2000.

At the time of the Watkins murder, there were just under 34,000 officers assigned to the NYPD and the Housing and Transit Police departments. Following the manpower crest reached in 2000, the ranks began getting thinner. The September 2008 head count was 36,049 and, according to Peter Vallone, the chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, the NYPD will hit a 15-year low of 33,325 if the January '09 class is deferred.

The ability of our police force to maintain safety is too important to our economic engine to be reduced to a pawn in the legislative and executive branches' budget maneuvering. The first responsibility of government is to protect the life and property of its citizens and that necessitates an adequately staffed Police Department.

While property values and tourist revenues have soared over the past decade, the real estate bubble appears to be eroding the former and a crime increase would certainly destroy both.

City Budget Director Mark Page's recent Council testimony that the city can be policed just as effectively with fewer officers defies common sense. Leaders should learn the lessons of the Watkins murder. Blade-wielding gang members are less likely to roam freely and gunmen are less likely to invade the Waldorf when a well-staffed police force, employing the right tactics, is on the job.

Eliminating Police Academy classes — or even threatening to do so — is a dangerous game with deadly consequences.

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.