New York Post
January 12, 2003

Post Opinion


Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is warning that because 95 percent of his department's budget covers personnel costs, it will be "very difficult" to deliver the $94 million in fresh cuts demanded by Mayor Bloomberg.

Without laying off cops, that is.

The last time the city was forced to pink-slip police officers was during the 1975 fiscal crisis, which brought New York to the edge of bankrputcy.

And though City Hall's current fiscal woes more than rival those of three decades ago, this is no time to cut back on police protection - especially in light of the increased demands on One Police Plaza in the face of terrorism.

We understand Kelly's concern - and fully appreciate his insistence that there's no other way to meet the mayor's demand for a 3 percent cut in the NYPD's $3.4 billion budget (on top of the 5.7 percent cut in the current budget).

The commissioner is a retired Marine colonel, and Marines obey orders.

This time, blame Mayor Mike.

To govern is to make choices.

A mayor can apportion resources to reflect priorities - sending a hand-on-the-tiller message to the world.

Or he can use the one-size-fits-all approach. Cops on the streets or bureaucrats in their seats - chop, chop, it's all the same.

Sure, Mayor Mike ordered an across-the-board 3 percent cut for police, fire and education - while promising 6 percent reductions in all other city agencies.

So it's not as bad as it could be.

But it's pretty bad.

Across-the-board cuts may seem like the fairest way to make everyone "share the pain," but it makes to sense when trying to address a budget shortfall whose chief cause is unchecked spending.

By July, retirements and attrition will cut the police force to 37,210 from its March 2000 high of 40,800 officers. Bloomberg is demanding cuts equal to the cost of 1,500 entry-level officers.

PBA President Patrick Lynch is hardly a disinterested party, but he is entirely correct when he says that "laying off police officers as this city struggles to fight terrorism and rebuild its economy is not an option."

A mayor - and especially a seasoned business executive like Michael Bloomberg - needs to recognize where spending realistically can be cut.

He needs to recognize which agencies are overstaffed - and which are simply unaffordable.

Cut those 100 percent - and leave the cops alone!

But what is City Hall up to, even as it moves to slice the police force?

Bloomberg's corporation counsel last week settled a lawsuit by embracing one more ultra-costly, open-ended entitlement program: The city agreed to provide mentally ill prison inmates - 25,000 are treated each year at Rikers Island - with access to psychiatric treatment and medication after their release, as well as financial help in paying for it.

The treatment also may include assistance in securing housing - so expect to see a new entitlement of "housing on demand" for parolees as well as those who merely claim to be homeless.

How much will this cost? Who knows? But the settlement will further overload municipal agencies - when it was Albany that began closing mental hospitals a generation ago, flooding New York City's streets with the helpless and hopeless mentally ill.

Bloomberg correctly perceives a need for government action - but he shouldn't have volunteered his own government to provide it.

Not when cop layoffs loom.

Priorities, Mr. Mayor - priorities.