New York police chiefs feel the heat over crime problems and budget cuts

In Police Plaza, New York City’s police brass try to make sense of the havoc wreaked by the breakdown in public order and a lack of adequate manpower. This Thursday, hundreds of NYPD employees,…

New York police chiefs feel the heat over crime problems and budget cuts

In Police Plaza, New York City’s police brass try to make sense of the havoc wreaked by the breakdown in public order and a lack of adequate manpower. This Thursday, hundreds of NYPD employees, union and non-union, joined forces to protest for greater numbers and resources to deal with a crime rate that has already hit its highest level in nearly two decades.

An especially hard hit unit is the 63rd precinct. There, the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force just announced that seven shootings – three of them fatal – have been reported since 12 June. In the 52-block zone of Bed-Stuy where the incidents occurred, 80% of the residents are eligible for food stamps and are likely only part of the population in need. There is still no known suspect, but the task force has warned of retaliation for the recent shootings of two black men who were walking on the street in New York last month.

Coming to the rescue of the task force is technology. While a major of mechanics is fixing a subway car and a part of one control room is redeployed to a disastrous power outage, another three rooms in the wall will process data from police surveillance cameras which are being calibrated so they can be turned on after sunset. And just an hour later, someone can be seen removing drywall and opening an attached window with a wrench. Many of the windows are brass shutters and other mechanisms that have no room for air conditioning.

So is everything normal? Not quite. According to Rich Kern, the NYPD’s director of training, every year he sends a letter to every police precinct outlining his expectations for their activities in keeping their precinct peaceful. The 727 officers assigned to the 63rd precinct submitted their recommendations, and he plans to grade them on a scale of “no issues” to “major issues”.

Last year he graded the precinct a 4.0.

Although budget cuts have only exacerbated the misery for crime fighters, such as community-based policing – once a bright spot in the NYPD’s response to a historically high crime rate – is also under attack. Last fall it was publicly humiliated when it was revealed that police brass had disbanded a so-called community policing “whip”, a crime-prevention team made up of hundreds of officers working directly with the community to find and report crime. Cops replaced the whip, but it is now largely defunct, reported even more poorly-performing officers into the department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, where internal investigations and internal sanctions for misconduct are virtually nonexistent.

In The New York Times on Thursday, Diana B. Henriques wrote about the department’s low budget, an estimated $3.7bn for the current fiscal year, which ends on 31 December. She pointed out that half the cost of keeping a police officer on the street is mandated by federal court-imposed settlements in the class action lawsuits known as the “stop and frisk” cases, brought against the NYPD by the NAACP and civil rights advocates. She also noted the lack of body cameras – part of a $229m police-worn camera program – as another glaring example of how strained resources hamper the department.

Kern, the police chief of the precinct, says he believes his officers’ dedication, not lack of manpower, are the biggest problem. “Folks ask me, ‘Why don’t you guys send in more?’ and I say, ‘Why would I send in more?’” he asked. “You don’t send in more when your people don’t want to do the job? I don’t think that’s fair.”

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