The New York Times

January 22, 2003

At Police Graduation, Bloomberg Takes His Boos, Then Bows


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose administration recently floated but then abandoned the possibility of laying off police officers, was loudly booed twice yesterday at a graduation ceremony for new police officers in Madison Square Garden.

As the 2,108 graduates, in crisp new uniforms and white gloves, sat at attention in folding chairs on the floor, a swelling chorus of boos rose from their friends and relatives in the stands when Mayor Bloomberg was introduced. They booed again when he was reintroduced to address the new officers.

Jeering the boss is hardly unusual at police graduations. Even Rudolph W. Giuliani, known as a law-and-order mayor, was booed at three graduations when he found himself at odds with the police union over contract and wage issues.

What appeared to start the booing of Mr. Bloomberg was the specter of layoffs. To help the city close a $3 billion gap in next year's budget, Mayor Bloomberg is seeking a 3 percent cut from the Police Department. Police officials said such a cut would be hard without layoffs, and the mayor waited more than a week before ruling them out.

Some relatives of the graduates said the new officers had followed news reports about possible layoffs with alarm, afraid all their training would be for nothing.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, issued a statement saying, "For the last two weeks, these 2,100 new police officers were wondering whether they were going to have a job after graduation, so their reaction should not be a surprise."

Mr. Bloomberg's police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, who was cheered at the ceremony, said mayors often got rough receptions at police graduations.

"It's a rambunctious crowd," Mr. Kelly said. "Mayors have always gotten a little static in Police Department graduations; certainly Mayor Dinkins and Mayor Giuliani did. It comes with the territory."

In his own speech to the graduates, Mr. Kelly praised the mayor. He opened his brief speech by saying, "Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for all your support," and went on to mention Mr. Bloomberg two more times.

Mayor Bloomberg, who soldiered on despite the boos and wound up winning loud cheers for a speech that praised the new police officers and their families, played down the earlier jeers.

"I think most people cheered," Mayor Bloomberg said afterwards. "There were a handful of people who weren't thrilled. But, listen, you can't worry about that. You have to do what is right."

Mr. Bloomberg declined to say what cuts he expected the Police Department to make. But City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., the chairman of the Council's Public Safety Committee, said he feared that the department would continue to shrink by not replacing all the police officers who retire. The size of the force, which stood at 40,710 officers in 2001, is expected to be at 37,210 officers in July.

"This whole police layoffs thing was never a political reality," Mr. Vallone said in an interview. "It has always been a smoke screen to cover up what's really going on: the decimation of the police force through attrition."

Mr. Vallone said staffing at his local precinct, the 114th in Astoria, Queens, had dropped to 175 now from 201 last year and 245 in 1999.

Mayor Bloomberg said after the speech that the Police Department had managed to do more with less, noting that crime continued to drop even as it lost staff.

"What we're trying to do is cut the budget without cutting services," he said. "And if there is any part of New York City government that has done that, it is the N.Y.P.D. over the last 12 months."