Vallone Questions Police Officer Cuts At Public Safety Committee Hearings
The New York City Police Department intends to shed 1,000 positions from its payroll next year, and City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. wants to know why. At a Public Safety Committee preliminary budget hearing that started at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Vallone, who chairs the committee, and other councilmembers grilled Police Department officials, including Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, about the proposed cuts, which could put in jeopardy the prospective jobs of 800 actual cops and 400 civilian Police Department employees. The NYPD is projected to reach its lowest levels since the crime-ridden early 1990s, and in the face of such shortfalls, Vallone was skeptical of a plan to cut 1,000 officer positions from the force in an effort to reduce the budget. The reduction in staffing will leave the NYPD with fewer than 35,000 officers, after reaching a high of more than 41,000 officers in 2001. Commissioner Ray Kelly testified that the Department will have lost 2,400 officers this year, and routinely loses as many as 3,000.
Vallone is very worried that these continued staff reductions will cause crime to rise again from historically low levels, and there is evidence to suggest that is happening. During the first two months of this year, felony crime on Staten Island skyrocketed 23 percent, and as much as 45 percent in one precinct. In recent weeks, there were 360 robberies in the city, up 14 percent from last year. Year to date, there have been just over 4,000 robberies, up about 4 percent from last year.
Before the first academy class graduates in June this year, the NYPD will have only 34,624 officers, the lowest number since 1993. In that year, the city started the Safe Streets Safe City Program, which would ultimately raise the force to just under 41,000 officers. The maximum headcount budgeted under the current proposal would be 36,868. Vallone believes that number should be between 38,000 to 39,000 to adequately patrol the city.
“We are near a breaking point. We cannot continue to lower the number of officers and expect our public safety to stay the same,” Vallone said. “We need as many boots on the ground as possible. That is what keeps our neighborhoods safe.”
After years of fighting for more police, in 2006 Vallone finally succeeded in getting the Bloomberg mayoral administration to put the new positions in its budget. Those new positions could be put in jeopardy by this new plan, even though the administration had hoped to fill these jobs by 2010. But the Police Benevolent Association has said it believes the salary arbitration should be completed by this summer, raising the starting pay that has hindered recruitment efforts, and sees no reason to wait until 2010 to start hiring more officers.
Vallone and the PBA question whether it is prudent to delay hiring new officers at a time when academy classes are having trouble meeting attrition rates. With the police academy only able to handle 1,800 recruits at a time, it will take years to replenish the shrinking police forces even under a best-case scenario. That is why Vallone believes it is imperative to begin hiring more officers as soon as possible, not delay the recruiting drive for another year.
The administration has failed over the past years to reach these recruitment goals, and wants to cut the unfilled positions to save money in the budget. The current budget will also remove almost all of the 400 civilian positions that were added under the 2006 NYPD expansion initiative. Patrol officers must therefore be taken off the streets and put into precincts to fill those jobs, where they will have less impact on public safety. Another 200 officers are also on military leave, stretching staffing levels even further. Due to Operation Impact, which last year took every recruit and put them into the worst precincts, many neighborhoods have not received a new officer in years.
“At some times at night, it is almost impossible to get police to respond to a non-emergency incident because there are two patrol cars for an entire precinct,” Vallone said. “We simply need more cops in more places at more times.”
Also discussing their budgets cuts were the district attorneys of each of the five boroughs of New York City, Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno and the Civilian Review Complaint Board.