When Police Commissioner Ray Kelly strode into the City Council chambers this morning, the dozen or so high-ranking chiefs who had been milling about quickly formed a huddle around him, with those who were boxed out on one side moving swiftly to join the scrum. After all, he’s the boss. During the two hours of questioning that followed, Kelly did not defer once to any of the assembled bureau chiefs and top aides in their dress blues and gold stars. After all, he’s the boss.
The big NYPD news of the day emerged not from the council’s public safety committee hearing but across City Hall in the briefing room, where Mayor Bloomberg announced the addition of 800 uniformed and 400 civilian workers to the force. The civilians will free up cops currently in desk jobs, so the net gain on the street will be around 1,200 officers. This would seem to reverse the trend of declining NYPD staff (headcount dropped by about 5,000 between fiscal years 2000 and 2005) that’s led cops and commanders to complain about having too few officers even to staff the minimum number of squad cars each precinct is supposed to dispatch.
But Kelly made few promises about what the 800 new cops will actually mean. They won’t necessarily allow a decrease in NYPD overtime (which is costing the city $400 million this year) partly because the new cops will make arrests and “virtually any arrest that you make is going to generate overtime,” Kelly says. And the 800 cops will offset—but not stop—the steady stream of cops to retirement; eight to 10 leave each day. “It really is a function of our hiring in the mid-80s,” Kelly says, noting that four out of five officers quit once they hit 20 years. So while the city has hired some 11,500 cops since Kelly became Bloomberg’s commissioner, another 15,000 have taken the gold watch.
Despite that reduced staffing, official crime statistics have continued to fall. The 800 cops new cops will be dispatched to precincts to reduce crime that’s already at historic lows in a city that’s already the safest metropolis in the country—if you believe the crime stats. “We’re determined to lock in those gains and drive crime down even further,” the mayor said this morning. Of course, not everybody does believe the crime stats. But if you do, the obvious question is, how low can New York go?
Or how high. The NYPD’s proposed budget includes hiring 100 traffic agents to bring in a net $17 million from writing 450,000 new tickets next year (about one per every resident of Staten Island) on top of the 8.4 million parking summonses handed out in 2005.
Everybody hates dumb parkers. It’s frightening that the people who double park directly across from another doubled-parked car on a narrow street can not only park their cars, but also drive them. But the revenue the city derives from parking tickets acts like a stealth tax on delivery firms and people who can’t afford parking spaces. Councilman John Liu of Queens asked Kelly if there was a specific parking problem that the 100 new traffic agents would address. “We still have and continue to have significant issues,” Kelly said, specifically pointing to double parking.
Bronx Councilwoman Helen Foster agreed that double parking was a big issue in her district, especially around 161st Street. But, she added, the problem parkers are police vehicles. Kelly said he’d look into it.