In New York City, the Perfect Storm is Building

The Perfect Storm

We can clearly discenr sevaral trends coming together.

New York City has experienced over twenty years of decreasing crime rates. But aggressive policing tactics such as Stop and Frisk and targeting open-air narcotics sellers, coupled with the get-tough approach on quality-of-life crimes, is now being scrutinized. We have widespread unemployment and a faltering economy, and a progressive mayor, Bill DiBlasio, who has indicated that he is against Stop and Frisk. There are signals that crime is slowly on the uptick. The recent wanton assaults of the "Knockout Game" come to mind.

In any dynamic, there is an internal and external environment. The New York City street cop knows this dynamic intimately. Police officers want to know that from the mayor downward, someone has their backs. Mayor Rudy Giuliani set the tone: aggressive policing would be rewarded, active cops would go to elite crime-fighting units like Street Crime and Narcotics and get plenty of overtime for arrests. They would pad their pensions with overtime. Civilian Complaints had become a slap on the wrist.

Today we have a progressive mayor, liberal/left ideology, a re-energized Civilian Complaint Review Board with talk of civilian oversight of the police department, and a recent court decision, Floyd et al v. the City of New York, which effectively dismantled the NYPD's Stop and Frisk policy. Judge Shira A Scheindler did not find that stop-and-frisk itself was unconstitutional, only that it was unconstitutionally applied. She determined that many stops lacked reasonable suspicion and police were racially profiling.

This ruling has been overturned. These are all external dynamics.

Internally, police officers are tired of years of escalating ticket, arrest, and Stop and Frisk quotas. They know their overtime is drying up. They see taxes going up and city services being cut. They see Detroit when they think about New York. They've seen the video of the retired Detroit cop that had his pension torched. After that city's bankruptcy, he is getting 18 cents on the dollar. NYPD cops will not make gun and narcotics arrests if the City doesn't back them. They are thinking about retirement and just like during the 80s, force complaints have sent them looking to get off the street


If you fast forward to the beginning of 2013, crime across the country has steadily dropped from its high in 1990. It wasn't always this way. The economic malaise of the '70s led to a hiring freeze on police officers and crime proliferated. New York City was particularly hard hit. As the city slowly climbed out of a long recession in the 1980s, the burgeoning crack epidemic fueled 2,262 murders in 1990.

Several things were coming together during the late '80s and early '90s. While the police force was slowly getting beefed up, a charismatic leader took helm of the NYPD. William Bratton became police commissioner in 1994. Rudy Giuliani became mayor of New York in 1993 as the inept Mayor David Dinkins lost his re-election bid. In the external environment, President Bill Clinton's COPS Program (Community Oriented Policing Services) had a laudable goal of funding for 100,000 police officers. (Actual results range from 118,000 from a Justice Department study, to a low of approximately 82,000.)

In New York City, a plan to rezone brothels, massage parlors, and X-rated movies in Times Square and on Queens Blvd. was implemented under Giuliani's reign. Buttressed by the COPS funding, more money was allotted for additional officers for dealing with vice and quality-of-life offenses such as panhandling, squeegee window wipers, and the homeless problem. The COPS funding added a militaristic and professional look to police departments across the country and emphasized national incident command policies developed by FEMA.

Bratton did away with the powder-blue police uniform shirts that were a 70s attempt to appease critics that believed police officers acting like Nazi storm troopers were brutalizing the citizenry with impunity.

In 1994, I was a sergeant, a Policy Analyst in the police commissioner's Office of Management Analysis and Planning (OMAP.). Bratton advocated the "Broken Windows" approach to crime. The theory centered on the idea that disorder and crime is inexorably linked. If you come into a town and see broken windows, this sets the tone that crime is tolerated. In a similar vein, if you combat low-level crime like panhandling, fare beating, and similar quality of life crimes, serious crimes would be prevented.

A new milieu arose under Bratton's watch. The focus of the department changed from the '70s, which centered on preventing police corruption following the city's black eye after the Knapp Commission and the '80s focus on preventing police brutality and reducing civilian complaints for FADE (Force, Abuse of Authority, Discourtesy, Ethnic slurs). Many officers, feeling they were unable to do their job, opted for inside details like quartermaster and other headquarters gigs.

Under Bratton, beleaguered cops that aimlessly responded to myriad 911 calls in radio cars were unshackled and through aggressive community patrols were able to attack crime head-on, unfettered by civilian complaints.

Central to this strategy was CompStat (Complaint Statistics.) Every rank, police officer through precinct Commanding Officer was now held accountable. Crimes and methods of operation were tracked. The number of arrests and particularly the number of Stop and Frisks (UF 250s) were tracked. Precinct Commanders were under great pressure to increase arrest and summons numbers annually.

"We own the Night"

From the early 1970s, the elite city-wide Street Crime Unit composed of 138 officers took guns off the street and combated muggers with coordinated stings. By 1997, aggressive commanders expanded the unit to almost 400 officers while stopping and frisking 18,023 people. However, only 4,899 arrests were made, which drew the ire of minority communities.

The Amadou Diallo shooting, in which members of Street Crime Unit on a stop and frisk fired 41 shots at Amandou Diallo, killing him. That led to the racial profiling case, Daniels, et al. v. City of New York, et al. that in turn led to the disbanding of the Street Crime Unit in 2003.

Narcotics squads increased 137 percent between 1990 to 1999 and effectively reduced drug-related homicides.

As it stands, every last one of these achuevements is now at risk. I can't help but think of an emerging Dark Knight scenario in Gotham. In the 1960s the liberal mayor, John Lindsay, bankrupted the city. Riots were a summer event in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant and a decade of decay followed. Please take a look at the movies from that lost era to remember that New York: The French Connection, Panic in Needle Park, Taxi Driver, and Death Wish.

The happiest day in my police career was slapping cuffs on Al Sharpton for a warrant for disorderly conduct. Please fast forward to Mayor DeBlasio's recent remarks about Al.

"Every year Reverend Sharpton is becoming stronger as a leader, is reaching farther as a leader."

Mayor Lindsay will pale in comparison to DeBlasio, whose stated goal is to reign in the police, increase taxes, and to increase the size of government.

The police are already reeling over recent court decisions which radically change Stop and Frisk. If Stop and Frisk goes, there goes the city. Wall Street and the real estate moguls vehemently oppose raising taxes. People are leaving New York City because of taxes. New York City already has the most city government employees in the country at 325,000. If you have ever had your car towed by Meter Maids or dealt with clerks eating greasy fried chicken when you ask for your father's Death Certificate and you get a greasy copy, you know what I am talking about.

Make no mistake -- DeBlasio's goal is to remedy inequalities that affect the lives of poor New Yorkers beginning in the cradle. To Billy Boy the plight of New York's poor reeks of the squalor and poverty of a Dickensian novel, calling out for correction at all costs. (Never mind that tens of thousands of people from around the world have made New York City their home because of the opportunities that abound in the city.) Under the new regime, New York City police officers will approach crime with their hands tied behind their back. Gone will be aggressive enforcement. As we speak, gun arrests are down.

There is a perfect storm scenario brewing. Less aggressive enforcement empowers criminals to act. More violent crime results and people and businesses flee the city for the suburbs. As the tax base erodes, there are no additional monies for police. Police overtime is cut. Police officers retire and there is no money to put new classes through the Police Academy. Crime increases and the downward spiral intensifies.

Let's get the map out. Detroit fell. Chicago is next. The city that Rudy Giuliani called the "Capitol of the World," is being primed to fall.

William F. Dement is a retired Lieutenant Narcotics Squad Commander, N.Y.P.D. He was a policy analyst for former Police Commissioner William Bratton and he cowrote the crime strategies that were lauded for reducing crime in New York City.

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