In a press conference at City Hall last week City Councilmember Sheldon Leffler noted an alarming statistic. While New York City now has more than 40,000 police officers on its payroll, the number of officers assigned to the city's police precincts to carry out community policing duties has declined. As of June 11th, 16,940 officers were assigned to specific precincts, 679 fewer than as of about two and a half years earlier. In contrast, the centrally controlled seven patrol borough commands across the city grew by 317 officers during the same period, a 15 percent increase. The two Queens Patrol Boroughs, North and South, grew by 104 officers, or 26 percent.
Between April 1997 and June 11, 2000, the dates on which Leffler's figures are based, eight of the 16 precincts in Queens have seen increases in the number of officers present at roll calls. The 103rd Precinct in Jamaica, 105th, Queens Village, 106th, Ozone Park, 110th, Elmhurst, 111th, Bayside, 112th, Forest Hills, 113th, Jamaica, and 115th, Jackson Heights, were assigned a total of 72 new officers. That's the good news. The bad news is the remaining eight precincts--the 100th, in the Rockaways, 101st, Far Rockaway, 102nd, Richmond Hill, 104th, Ridgewood, 107th, Flushing, 108th, Long Island City, 109th, Flushing, and 114th, in Astoria--lost a total of 98 officers. The Queens Detective Squad lost 26 officers. Although Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's airport narcotics interdiction, public housing eviction and civil forfeiture operations, the last two intended to combat narcotics dealing in public housing developments and drag racing on streets all over the borough, have been outstanding successes, 12 fewer officers were assigned to his office as of June 11th.
According to Deputy Chief Thomas Fahey, a spokesperson for Police Commissioner Howard Safir, in the 105th, 107th and 111th Precincts encompassed by Leffler's 23rd Councilmanic district, the seven index crimes of murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault, grand larceny and grand larceny auto declined by 64 percent, surpassing even the decrease experienced by the rest of New York City. That decline, however, was not aided by the loss of eight officers from the 107th Precinct. Nor are the residents of the other Queens precincts which lost officers reassured by the statistics. And according to Leffler, the personnel increases in citywide units serve only to show the deficiencies in local police coverage brought on by a shortage of officers at the precinct level. The auto crime unit, for example, increased by 42 officers, or 45 percent--impressive numbers, but grand larceny auto still leads the list of index crimes in many Queens precincts. If the public morals unit added 56 officers to its ranks to grow by 33 percent, why is prostitution still the most pressing issue facing area residents in some neighborhoods?
The fact of the matter is that while major crimes may indeed have declined, many Queens residents are still experiencing a deterioration in quality of life, a deterioration that could be addressed by more police walking a beat. Reprimanding unruly youths and issuing summonses to speeding or double-parked motorists and breaking up loud parties may not rank as high on the arrest scale as nabbing serial rapists and leading the charge at drug sting operations, but relatively minor crimes impact on the lives of victims, too. They deserve to be taken equally seriously.
That index crimes have declined in New York City should not be a reason for taking police officers out of the precincts. To the contrary, in order to see improvements in all crime statistics, we must attend to the smaller details and the lesser infractions. As with oaks and acorns, great crimes from little misdemeanors grow. Cops on neighborhood patrol will keep small crimes from growing into major felonies. Safir's last day as New York City Police Commissioner was Friday, Aug. 18th. His successor, former Department of Corrections Commissioner Bernard Kerik, should make bringing back beat cops one of the first things he does on taking office.