The next mayor of New York is going to have big problems as soon as he takes office. If not before. Crime – which had declined for 25 consecutive years and fell in 2019 to levels not seen since the Dodgers played in Brooklyn – has skyrocketed, with no end in sight.
The city’s civic will was tested and found to be failing. And there has been a deep erosion of trust in and by the NYPD, the organization responsible for Gotham’s security. Our next mayor must turn the tide, starting by letting go of the misconceptions that have brought the city to this point.
Much has been said about police funding. It is a hashtag, not a sophisticated policy calculated to strengthen public safety. And this is ridiculous. In what world does less enforcement lead to more respect for the law? This is New York. Ask around you. All communities, from the richest to the poorest, want to feel safe on their streets. The presence of police, as studies have shown, is the only sure sign that the place is not out of control.
How did we get here?
In the 1970s, New York State and the federal government lost the will to protect many of the most vulnerable. Unable or unwilling to staff and manage psychiatric facilities effectively, state and federal authorities have closed them down and abandoned their residents. These men and women were supposed to be placed in treatment centers or monitored at home, but the promised alternative facilities were not built and home monitoring remained largely without funding and practice.
Where have these unfortunates gone? In the streets. You walked through the front door and there was a gentleman lying on the sidewalk on a piece of cardboard. His behavior was likely to create disorder and crime. Unable to function in society, this gentleman and many others like him could not hold a job or find or afford housing.
We closed mental institutions and helped create a societal problem that still plagues us today: the homeless population. And who was supposed to deal with this problem? Cops. Who was responsible for responding and preventing the inevitable crime that followed? Cops. When the safety net tore or was intentionally ripped, who was there to pick up the pieces? Cops.
The profession is more than willing to relinquish responsibility for the social services it now provides. This would allow the police to return to their traditional job, the full-time job of crime and disorder prevention. Too few have been told to do too much with too little for too long. And he’s finally caught up with us.
But when there is no fully capable replacement for what the cops do, limiting the police would be disastrous for the health of the city. The defunders would take 2,000 cops off the streets and replace them with what, exactly? When excellent programs have been designed and are in place in agencies specifically empowered and able to deliver them, the NYPD will gladly pass the baton on. These programs will cost municipalities significant amounts of money, but if they solve a problem that has increased crime and caused disarray, the investment will have been worth it.
As it is, these programs don’t exist to nearly the capacity the Big Apple needs. Until then, we don’t need to fund the police – we need to refinance the law enforcement. New York needs to hire more cops and train them more and more intensively in areas such as de-escalation techniques and recognizing implicit bias.
In Boston in the 1970s, a recruit would go through the academy in eight weeks and be put out on the streets with a gun before Christmas. Now NYPD recruits are spending six months at the academy, which is still little time to train young men and women in the increasingly complex world of law enforcement, given the increasing demands for services. social. Cops in Europe are trained for up to two years before being promoted to the force.
The best in New York City need more time and money, not less. We must regain and then strengthen the trust between the community and the profession. There are mayoral candidates who are in fact pledging to strip the city of thousands more of its protectors. Fewer cops, more criminals? It’s not a platform to run on. It is not a city to live in. Fund the police? No refund!
Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is the author, along with Peter Knobler, of “The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America”.