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Mayor Adams recently delivered some bad news to both his constituents and city employees. Of course, it was entirely predictable. The unrelenting flow of undocumented immigrants into New York City has stretched the administration’s financial resources to the limit and now the mayor warns that there is no longer enough money in the city coffers to fund essential services at the current levels.
Whatever successes the NYPD has had combating crime will soon be for naught. Much of Adams’ crime-fighting strategy relies on police officers working extra hours to address staffing shortages. It is an expensive proposition, because those hours require the payment of overtime, the very thing the mayor has vowed to cut from the budget.
This is a double-edged sword. For officers who are eligible to retire, those being the most seasoned members of the force, overtime is a major factor in their final pension calculation. Few experienced officers will stay on if they believe they will earn fewer dollars resulting in a smaller pension. But that is what Adams, a former NYPD cop himself, has told them is going to happen. He may as well show them the door.
The fact is the mayor’s crime-fighting strategy has never been on solid ground. Neither have similar strategies, also reliant on overtime, employed by past mayors. Long ago, the mantra for a successful administration was simple, “Keep the lid on crime.” New strategies were employed to deal with the ever-evolving criminal element.
For example, in 1919, when crooks began to use motor vehicles as getaway cars, NYPD brass quickly realized the foot cops had no chance in apprehending them. The department immediately purchased one motor patrol car for each precinct in the city. It was a costly proposition at the time, but necessary to address a burgeoning crime problem that would have only gotten worse. Ironically, the officers preferred their footposts to patrolling in the open-air Ford runabouts. Today, the department has over 9,000 vehicles, but makes it almost impossible for officers to initiate vehicle pursuits without getting themselves into trouble. It’s the complete opposite thinking, but ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.
The fact is reducing crime requires manpower. It is as simple as that. Overtime works well in limited situations to address specific problems. During the Dinkins administration, there were over 2,000 murders per year in New York City. The NYPD was severely understaffed. Out of the chaos a new initiative was born, “The Safe Streets — Safe City Program,” which increased the size of the force to 38,000 police officers.
When the Transit and Housing police departments were merged into the NYPD, that number rose to over 40,000. Unfortunately for Dinkins, he never had the opportunity to deploy those extra officers. That fell to his successor, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton who paired the additional officers to a “Broken Windows” theory and his new CompStat crime-data-gathering tool, Police officers were suddenly available to address conditions that previously had been ignored. Crime dropped precipitously, beginning a downward trend that lasted more than 25 years.
The force is now under 34,000, and over 1,000 below its budgeted number. It doesn’t appear that the department will reach its full strength anytime soon. Recruiting as of late has been difficult because the best recruiters are the officers themselves. In the past, their sons and daughters willingly followed in their parents’ footsteps, but today officers are advising their children not to join the NYPD. Other police departments, yes, but not the NYPD.
To be fair, Adams is in a tough spot, but he should consider that the failure to provide law and order could make him a one-term mayor. It’s happened before.
Bernard Whalen is a former NYPD lieutenant and co-author of “The NYPD’s First Fifty Years” and “Case Files of the NYPD.”
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