Even after helping to dramatically reduce crime rates over the past decade and a half, the New York Police Department will not be able to escape significant budget cuts as the city experiences a fiscal crisis of historic proportions.
According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal, the NYPD—like every other city agency including education, parks, and social services—will lose about $1.5 billion over the next two years.
No department firings have been announced yet. As Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly revealed on Feb. 10, the NYPD will reduce costs by eliminating the police academy class of 2010, which is comprised of about 1,000 recruits. Kelly added that another round of budget reductions may result in layoffs of patrolmen, which has not happened since the 1970s.
Officer James Harper of the NYPD’s 26th Precinct, which encompasses the Columbia campus, said, “Having as many officers as you can get is ideal, and the presence of police is a crime deterrent. The more of anything you have at your disposal, the better off you are, that’s obvious. But we will be able to make do with what we have.” Harper explained that crime rates are up only slightly in recent months.
“This is not a doomsday scenario,” explained State Sen. Bill Perkins (D-30th District), who represents Morningside Heights and most of Harlem. He said he was not aware of impending layoffs, and that he was not privy to any NYPD plans that have not yet been announced.
“We have enjoyed success in recent years, and we hope that this action won’t lead to a reversal of that trend,” Perkins said. “While the mayor could have made other choices in terms of his budget, I don’t think that we should automatically conclude that a bad economy means the crime rate will go up. I am no sociologist, but I would not leap to that conclusion.”
Yet some see the city’s worsening economy and a police force already stressed by the demands of counterterrorism as a dangerous combination. The NYPD was already down to its lowest number of employees in more than decade before the financial crisis devastated the city budget. Commissioner Kelly announced that the police force will be no larger than 34,771 after July.
“Crime has not been a major issue in recent years because Commissioner Kelly has been able to camouflage personnel losses, and do more with less, but the NYPD may be nearing a point of no return,” Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, a safety patrol group staffed by volunteers, said. “A student of history knows that every time there is an economic downturn, there is an increase in crime. Whoever argues to the contrary is hopelessly wrong.”
Sliwa predicts that the NYPD might allow crime to rise in the outer boroughs, and try to turn Manhattan below 96th Street into a “fortress.”
He also suggested that the Columbia campus may be particularly vulnerable to a rise in crime. “People can try to come on to the campus and steal things. They’re just going to try to lift, snatch and go, sell it cheap. Easy pickings. Security is going to have to be more vigilant.”
Local groups are already trying to fill a void which may be created if the NYPD loses manpower. Marjorie A. Cohen, executive director of the Westside Crime Prevention Program—an Upper West Side-based community watch organization—said, “When there are fewer officers, it is important that they are deployed in the best way they can be. My group is trying to promote the idea that people can report crimes and unsafe conditions so the police have the right information on hand when they decide how to deploy officers.”