Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In a Shift, New York Says It Will Add 800 Officers

March 22, 2006

In a Shift, New York Says It Will Add 800 Officers


The New York Police Department, the largest in the nation, will add 800 police officers to its force of roughly 37,000 in its largest city-financed expansion since 1993, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday.

The increase will allow officials to devote more police officers to regular patrols as well as to initiatives like Operation Impact, which floods high-crime neighborhoods with more officers; a new push to clear the streets of illegal guns; and continuing antiterrorism efforts. But even when the expansion is in place by the summer of 2007, the department will still be smaller than it was before Sept. 11, 2001.

The mayor and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the expansion was not in reaction to any early trouble signs this year in the city's crime rate, which Mr. Kelly said was down 3 percent over all in 2006.

Rather, they said it was largely meant to address demographic trends: the city believes its population has grown by 125,000 since 2001 and is expected to increase by 200,000 more in the next five years. That would be the equivalent of "adding the entire city of Pittsburgh to the five boroughs," the mayor said.

"We must face the reality that as our population grows and as terrorism remains a threat, making the safest big city in America even safer requires additional resources," Mr. Bloomberg said at City Hall yesterday in announcing the expansion.

Casey Kelbaugh for the New York Times

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and

Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner,
announced the expansion of the police force
at City Hall on Tuesday in New York.

The expansion marks the first time in Mr. Bloomberg's mayoralty that he has increased the size of the force. He cut more than 3,600 officers' positions during his first term through attrition while contending with a huge budget gap, and 1,000 other officers were assigned to counterterrorism.

During the fall election campaign, Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, was criticized by Democratic rivals for allowing the department to shrink, and City Council leaders have continually pressed for a larger force.

Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the Council's Public Safety Committee, echoed the tenor of last fall's criticisms in a statement yesterday, saying, "Now we get to see what Commissioner Kelly can do with his team at full strength." He said that the Police Department had been "stretched to their limits."

When the expansion is complete, the Police Department will have 37,838 uniformed officers' positions. While that is an official increase of 800, Mr. Bloomberg said there would ultimately be 1,200 more police officers on the street because the city is also hiring an additional 400 civilian employees who will relieve officers in desk jobs.

Though the force is currently authorized for 37,038 officers, there were actually only about 36,450 yesterday; the total changes every few days because of retirements and resignations and because new officers generally enter only twice a year, in January and July.

Even after all the new hiring is done, the uniformed police force will remain below its level before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and certainly well below its peak of 40,800 police officers in 2000.

And even Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly have acknowledged that hiring itself could pose something of a challenge under a new starting base salary set by a contract arbitrator last year at $28,900, annualized, for first-year recruits. They are paid at a rate of $25,100 a year for the first six months, while they are in training, and $32,700 for the next 12 months, when they are on patrol.

Not only by maintaining historically low crime rates but also by using its own money to finance the increase, New York City may be bucking national trends.

"It's safe to say that big-city police departments are not substantially growing: the spending boom of the Clinton administration has passed, local governments are in tough financial conditions, and the share of federal money that is going to local law enforcement is shrinking," said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who noted that some past hiring pushes had been partly financed by federal grants.

For example, Chief William J. Bratton of Los Angeles, who was the New York City police commissioner from 1994 to 1996, has been pushing to hire more officers, largely without success, Mr. Kennedy said.

At City Council hearings yesterday, the city's district attorneys broadly welcomed the news of the Police Department hires, though a few noted that additional arrests generated by the new officers would almost certainly strain the already thin resources in their offices.

The district attorneys and the Council seemed caught off guard by the news, of which there was no hint beforehand from the mayor and his aides: Mr. Bloomberg had not included the money for the expansion � $33.8 million in the 2007 fiscal year, rising to $80 million by the 2010 fiscal year � in the preliminary budget he released in January.

Officials said yesterday's announcement was a result of better-than-expected tax revenues, a new call from the mayor to get illegal guns off the streets and, most important, a continuing population boom that ultimately calls for a larger police force.

Mr. Bloomberg has kept an intensive focus on decreasing crime throughout his mayoralty. He and his team reveled in disproving predictions during their first term that crime rates would not go down further than they did during the tenure of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Mr. Kelly indicated that he believed they could be taken down still more.

Mr. Bloomberg noted yesterday that crime had fallen nearly 25 percent since 2001, and that there had been four consecutive years in which the number of homicides was fewer than 600, saying it was something "no one ever imagined possible."

Also, keeping crime from rising is extremely important to Mr. Bloomberg and his aides, who put a high value on New York's status as the nation's safest big city. "Public safety is the foundation of economic progress and of our city's success," Mr. Bloomberg said.

There have been 106 homicides so far this year, two more than in the same period last year, according to the police. Overall crime in the subways is down 36 percent. However, there have been more rapes reported so far this year, 396, than there were during the same period last year, when there were 346.

Thomas A. Reppetto, a longtime observer of the Police Department and author of several books on criminal justice, praised the timing of the expansion, coming as it does during a relative lull in crime. "People are going to say, 'Crime is down, so why can't we reduce the police force?' " he said. "In the past, we've cut the police force, and crime went up considerably. When crime goes up, once it gets momentum, it's very hard to bring it down again."

Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly said the move to increase the police force had not been prompted by any particular pattern of crimes. "We don't need to wait for the cavalry, because we are the cavalry," said Mr. Kelly, who has been continually lobbying behind the scenes for an increase in his force.

Mr. Bloomberg said the expansion was simply a prudent investment.

"Our administration is trying to run this city intelligently, and not react, but to prospectively look and see what the needs of this city are going forward," the mayor said yesterday.

Mr. Kelly said yesterday that the city was also adding 286 school safety agents. He also said the department would install 505 closed-circuit television cameras in 253 locations throughout the city, starting in Brooklyn, using $9.1 million in federal homeland-security grants. Some cameras may be installed in Operation Impact areas, where street crimes are highest, a police spokesman said.

"In this day and age, where you have the dual mission of fighting and continuing to reduce crime, and to combat terrorism, where we are probably the No. 1 target in the world, you cannot reduce your police force," said Robert J. McGuire, the city's police commissioner from 1978 to 1983. "It just goes without saying."

Kareem Fahim contributed reporting for this article.

Even Before, Recruiting for the Blue Could Be a Hard Sell (March 22, 2006)

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