The right NYPD fix
Don't cuff cops — hire more
by ELIZABETH S. CROWLEY
More than 30 members of the City Council have co-sponsored the Community Safety Act, a set of bills designed to curb stop-and-frisks and alter NYPD policies. While it is indeed important to discuss ways of improving the NYPD, these bills neglect to examine a simple solution that will improve policing and keep us protected: Hire more cops.
The bills' author, Councilman Jumaane Williams, and other critics point to a more than 600 percent rise in stops over the last 10 years, and the fact that nearly 90 percent of those stopped are black or Latino, to accuse the NYPD of improperly targeting minority communities.
The NYPD counters that that rise is partly a statistical illusion, driven by much better record-keeping — and, more important, that stops are concentrated in high-crime neighborhoods, so they disproportionately protect minority New Yorkers.
Certainly, stop-and-frisk helps prevent crime and protects cops who are placed in dangerous situations every day. Police officers responding to calls may not have time to ask questions. Education and training are drawn upon to limit the dangers, and stop-and-frisk, used correctly, is a commonsense police procedure.
If enacted, the bills would severely restrict police officers' ability to conduct searches, establish an inspector general over the NYPD and open the city and NYPD to more civil lawsuits. None of this would make New Yorkers safer.
But a larger force would make us safer — and greatly reduce the tensions that stops give rise to.
When Ray Kelly first served as police commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, he promoted community policing that placed thousands more cops on the street — a policy continued by Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Community policing put officers in position to prevent crime and gave comfort to residents. The growth of the force that began under Dinkins put the NYPD's ranks at nearly 41,000 under Guiliani — and brought a dramatic decrease in crime.
But since then Mayor Bloomberg has slashed more than 6,000 cops, including a 30 percent drop in detectives. We're asking the NYPD to do more with less each year, even as it faces new responsibilities for counterterrorism and technology crime.
The lack of officers has put local cops under tremendous pressure to keep crime down — leading to an increasing use of quotas, whether or not the city admits it. Of course stop-and-frisk numbers would rise if headquarters is demanding that cops perform a specific number of arrests or stops each month. Any smart policy, including stop-and-frisk, will inevitably be misused if cops fear disciplinary actions if they don't hit an arbitrary quota.
But how would we pay for more police? By saving on overtime.
The NYPD's overtime expenses exploded to $586.1 million in last year's budget (July 2011 to June 2012). Back in 2000, when there were more than 40,000 cops, we spent just $237.3 million in overtime.
In other words, overtime costs have more than doubled under the Bloomberg administration. Clearly, there are not enough cops to cover all necessary tours. And days that could be spent on training, perhaps a course on proper stop-and-frisk procedure and the dangers of racial profiling, must instead be used on regular tours.
How many more cops could be hired with smarter overtime policies? Do the math.
Police officers have a starting salary of roughly $41,000 per year. After five years, top pay is $76,000 base salary; with holiday pay and longevity bonuses, it's $90,829. So shifting half of the nearly $600 million would be enough money to hire more than 3,000 cops at top pay, or for more than 1,000 police captains at a top pay of $160,000 per year.
Indeed, the city can clearly save money by hiring more police officers, and have more time for training.
The men and women of the NYPD, even with a severely reduced headcount, do the best they can to keep New York the safest big city in America. But it is coming at a significant cost. An entire generation of young black and Latino men are growing resentful because of stop-and-frisk, and the city is spending hundreds of million dollars every year in overtime.
And all of this can be mitigated — not through reactionary bills like the Community Safety Act, but by hiring more police officers, offering more training and not punishing cops for failing to meet quotas.
Elizabeth S. Crowley (D-Queens) is the City Council member for the 30th District.
Giffords Urges Background Checks for All Firearm Purchases
by Amanda Crawford
Gabrielle Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Tucson, Arizona, who was shot in the head at a 2011 constituent event, returned to the Safeway Inc. (SWY) store where she was wounded and urged lawmakers to “be courageous” and “support background checks.”
Giffords and other survivors of the shooting urged passage of a measure that would require background checks for all U.S. gun purchases. Six people were killed and 12 people besides Giffords were injured in the shooting at the store.
Giffords, a 42-year-old Democrat, was hurt in the rampage that killed, among others, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl named Christina-Taylor Green. Among the wounded was U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat and former Giffords staff member who succeeded her in office.
The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison. Loughner said in his plea agreement that he went to the constituent event armed with a Glock Inc. model 19, 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, loaded with 33 rounds of ammunition, and three other magazines containing an additional 60 rounds of ammunition.
Congress is debating ways to curb gun violence after the shooting in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six adults. President Barack Obama supports universal background checks and a ban on sales of assault weapons. Obama is also backing a limit on high- capacity magazines such as the one used in the Giffords shooting.
Focus on Recovery
In January, Giffords, a three-term lawmaker who resigned from Congress a year ago to focus on her recovery, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington. Another witness was her husband, Mark Kelly, a former astronaut.
Kelly and Giffords founded a Washington-based gun-control advocacy group called Americans for Responsible Solutions.
The proposal for universal background checks is “not about the Second Amendment” right to bear firearms, Kelly said at today's event. “It's about public safety.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider the background check measure this week.
Kelly, who introduced each speaker at the press conference, helped to steady Giffords as other survivors spoke. The couple started Americans for Responsible Solutions two months ago, and the group now has more than 100,000 members, he said.
Kelly said he often thinks about how the 2011 Tucson shooting could have been avoided if there were a more rigorous background check system to prevent Loughner, who is mentally ill with a history of drug abuse, from obtaining a gun.
“If things were different, he would have failed that background check,” Kelly said.
Pam Simon, a former Giffords' staff member who was also wounded in the shooting, said the tragedy “should have been a wake-up call to this country.”
Instead, she said, it was followed by other mass shootings, including the one in Newtown and another in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater last year.
“Vote yes to get this first step, this first common sense legislation through Congress,” Simon said. “Now is the time.”