New York Daily News

February 4, 2010


OPINION

Cutting cops puts New York City at great risk of reliving “the bad ol' days”

It's an important number to remember: 33,959. That is how many police officers were employed in New York City on June 30, 1991.

Of course, that was a time when New York City was a very different place, a place ravaged by street crime. Murders, the deadliest barometer of crime, averaged more than 2,000 a year.

It was a time that was even worse than most of the preceding two decades, which were marked by an exodus of residents and businesses due to crime and urban blight.

No New Yorker who lived through that time yearns for "the bad ol' days." It could be said that the diminished number of police officers during that period was the single biggest factor in the city's decline.

Now comes a proposed city budget for 2011 that calls for a further reduction of 1,300 police officers, which would trim the ranks of police officers to 32,817, a number that when adjusted for the consolidation of the transit and housing police forces into the NYPD in the mid-1990s would render New York City more unprotected than at any time in the modern era.

At the same time, the NYPD faces increasing challenges of every sort, the most dangerous of which is terrorism. The events in Mumbai of November 2008 showed just how exposed a large metropolis is to the murderous acts of a fanatical few. The bombings, which left about 175 dead and more than 300 injured, also demonstrated the importance of having a visible police presence that could act as a deterrent and could respond quickly to such events.

Reduced staffing has caused the NYPD to redeploy its limited resources to meet new demands. Terrorism responsibilities have been added to the department's traditional crimefighting and public safety functions, and it has expanded its role in the social services and revenue-generating areas (traffic and parking enforcement).

Our police officers have produced, and will continue to produce, stellar results as their challenges and areas of responsibility have exponentially expanded and will likely continue to expand.

But the time is over for squeezing more from a force that has already been reduced by 6,000 police officers since 2001. Academy class after academy class, over a several year period, has been reduced, postponed or canceled.

With 33,959 police officers, New York City had become a dangerous place. Only with the infusion of billions in Safe Streets funding from New York State, and the hiring of thousands of new police officers, were we able to take our city back and restore it to its former greatness. But the damage to our city in terms of lost lives, diminished property values and lost tax revenues caused by the period of inadequate police staffing was catastrophic.

We must not return to those days. In this period of financial challenges, the city must prioritize public safety as paramount among services provided by government. Police force strength has already reached dangerous levels and must not be allowed to be diminished any further.

As the leader of the union representing the police officers who have responded admirably and ably to every new challenge presented them, and as a life-long city resident, I am deeply concerned by the force reductions reflected in the recent city budget. It should be a cause of great concern for every New Yorker.

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.