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Policing in New York: Past, Present, and Future

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Policing in New York: Past, Present, and Future

10 Blocks podcast May 12, 2021
Public safety
New York

Dorothy Moses Schulz joins Brian Anderson to discuss the 2021 mayoral candidates’ proposals to reform the NYPD, the complex realities obscured by the rhetoric of reform, and the simmering problem of dangerous public transit.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on today's show is Dorothy Moses Schulz. She's an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute where she works on the Policing and Public Safety Initiative.

Dr. Schulz is a professor emerita at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she taught courses in criminal justice and policing for more than two decades. She's also a retired captain with the Metro North commuter railroad police department, and she's the author of Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Women Police Chiefs and Their Paths to the Top, book that came out in 2004, and From Social Worker to Crimefighter: Women in United States Municipal Policing. She's been writing for City Journal, with her latest piece in the forthcoming spring issue dealing with the subject of residency requirements for police officers. Dorothy, thanks very much for joining us on 10 Blocks.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: My pleasure. Thank you, Brian.

Brian Anderson: So let's start with that article, which is in our forthcoming issue. "Don't Require Residency for City Cops," it's called and that basically sums up the conclusion of your argument. Would you elaborate a bit on that? What lies behind the push to make police officers live in the neighborhoods they patrol, and why is that a mistake for policymakers in your view to mandate?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: I think why that you've asked is really the key question. Nobody who's pushing for this now seems to be quite honest about it. We get these comments that police, police better if they police where they live, but nobody really knows that to be true. So we don't really know. Is this an economic goal to try and get people to spend their money where they make their money? Or more likely is it some sort of a code to achieve greater racial diversity in large cities?

But we really don't know, and as I point out in the article, if the goal is to achieve racial diversity, we might be better off coming out and saying that and trying to do something about that. Because for instance, in New York where the push at the state legislative level is for this, is a White cop from Staten Island better than a Black cop from Yonkers or vice versa? We're limiting the applicant pool and we're not sure, or we wouldn't be sure what we're gaining.

The earlier generation of progressives into the 20th century, considerably different from the people who call themselves progressives today, actually fought against residency requirements and undid them, including in New York, because they were seen really as fostering corruption and incompetence at a time when most municipal jobs, but particularly police jobs, went to constituents of Tammany-type bosses.

So we really need to know what is it that's trying to be achieved? Because we can't really do anything if we don't know, if we're not honest about what it is we're trying to do.

Brian Anderson: One thing we've started to write a bit about and the New York Post and other publications have been following this is a growing recruitment problem with the police department in New York. This isn't just the case in New York, it's across the country. What's behind the recruitment crisis in your view, and what are the long-term effects of that?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: Well, the recruitment crisis is nationwide and it's particularly ... It's not only recruitment, it's resignations and retirements. If you track them, the largest numbers are in cities where there's been the most civil unrest. Actually New York is the exception because there have not been the type of situations here as you've had in Portland and Seattle and Atlanta, for instance, and of course, Minneapolis, where there've been incidents involving specifically their police officers in Portland and Seattle, hundreds of nights of demonstrations, "peaceful protests."

All of these cities are having recruitment crises as well as, as I say, resignations and retirements. The question becomes what people want to be police officers at a time that police officers are being vilified? One of the concerns might be that the people who would be still interested in the job are exactly the people that maybe you don't want. Who were so eager to be police that they would take the job regardless of how negative some of the connotations are. This also plays into the story on residency requirements. If the goal is really unstated to diversify or have more minority police officers, how is that helped by having young White people scream into the faces of Black police officers that they're Uncle Toms and racist? Why did they take this job? They're killing their own people. I mean, that's hardly a way to recruit for a diversified police agency.

Brian Anderson: Sure. Yeah. It's a real problem. You mention in this piece that the New York City mayoral election is of course coming up and that most of the leading candidates have embraced this idea of residency requirements. Though, Eric Adams, who has recently sounded a bit more friendly to law and order as a former police officer, he hasn't gone quite that far on the residency requirements, I think. Is this an indicator though that the way policing is being discussed in the mayoral race that whoever is going to win this election is probably not going to be that much friendlier to New York's police officers?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: I hate to sound like a rapper here, but friend or foe, it's really more important what you know. One of the things that concerns me about this mayoral election, but overall, is that there's so many people who talk about policing who know absolutely nothing about it. Even going back to when I was a cop, which now seems like 100 years ago, we often used to talk amongst ourselves and laugh that anyone who watched Cops or Law & Order thought they could run a police department. Laughing about it is really no longer appropriate. We used to say if we watched all those medical shows, could we be surgeons or could we run hospitals? It's amazing to me that people who've probably never had a serious conversation with a police officer think they know what police officers think or what even they actually do.

I'm going to be careful here talking about Eric Adams. I've known him for decades, although I haven't seen him in many years. Eric was my student at John Jay, first as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student. Eric has fought the police department internally for almost all his career. He knows the police department. For better or for worse, he knows the police department. I don't think any of the other candidates really do, but because I know him and have known him for so long, I mean, we're weary or wary to say much more that concerns him personally.

Brian Anderson: One of the other major themes of your work has been subways, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the MTA, recently commissioned a survey of riders that's showing growing concern about crime on trains and in stations. Ridership is down significantly since the pandemic, of course, but I think crime is also now contributing to that. The MTA has been calling for a more vigorous, robust police presence to address this problem of safety on the trains, create a sense of security. Yet advocates are out there saying that this is misguided. They're saying, "Well, if you look year-to-date, crime is now down on the subways compared to where it was last year in 2020." But crime is still up relative to pre-pandemic levels, I think, pretty significantly. The NYPD itself is saying that the MTA's concerns are fear-mongering. So who is right here? Is the MTA right? Or what's going on?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: It's not fear-mongering if people are really afraid, and every day you read about something serious happening in the subways, particularly although the buses and in other cities are a bigger issue. Here the focus is on the subway. It's not fear-mongering. People are frightened, and Sarah Feinberg rides the subway and speaks for the subway system. I guess people know who she is. The interim or acting president of New York City Transit.

But the police department has a lot of masters. There were more police officers in the subways for a while, but now there's the focus on hate crime. And so to a certain extent, the police department's resources are split. It can't send all its people to the subway, even if people are frightened. But in a way it's similar to what I said earlier. The advocates also think they know about policing and they know about safety and security.

I'm not sure what they're advocating for, and I'm not sure they are sure because if you want more people in the subways, people have to feel safe and they don't. It's not helpful when the governor says, "Oh yes, they're safe. But I wouldn't advise my adult daughters to ride the subway." Then you had last week or the week before the mayor takes a limousine up to Washington Heights to introduce Advance Express Bus Service. What's wrong with the number one train or the A train? I mean, what kind of a message does that send to people?

So the idea is that you have to make people think it's safe and to do that, it has to be safe. You can't have people hit with hammers or pushed onto the tracks. Overrule crime may be down, but that's not, first of all, that's a factor of ridership being down, but that's not really what frightens people. Okay, nobody wants to get their pocket picked. Nobody wants to have someone grope you or rub up against you on a crowded train. But that's nothing compared to the fear of being hit on the head with a hammer or pushed onto electrified tracks. If people have that fear, they're not coming back.

Brian Anderson: That's so crucial to the city's recovery is to get the subways in full use again.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: Part of it of course, is that people need to have places to go. Now the city is opening up somewhat. So it'll be interesting. I mean, ridership has hit about two million, which is down from over five million. Maybe more people will come back into the subways if they have more places to go. But we hear more people are driving. To a certain extent the car services are cutting into ridership for people who can afford to take cars or Uber or Lyft type situations. Or even if they can't really afford it, if they're frightened enough, they'll spend the money on that instead of something else, because you can't put a price on your own feeling of safety.

Brian Anderson: You do get the sense sometimes that transit advocates are their own worst enemies. They do say, "Well, we need a clean and safe public transportation system," but they kind of overlook the safety component or take it for granted and are often very critical of those who insist that it's fundamental. The more we have public order problems in the city, the more folks are going to stay away from the subways as you just noted. I guess what would be your response or your best argument to those who think that the quality policing is this kind of optional ingredient of subway safety and of urbanism generally?

Dorothy Moses Schulz: I think it's part of the whole defund and anti-police rhetoric. When you have people, paying passengers, who are saying they're afraid to ride because the system is desolate or it's overrun with homeless people or people with mental health problems and you have the advocates saying that the police frighten people, more people are frightened of the police than they are of the homeless people. Or that we shouldn't enforce fare evasion because it's an equity issue, basically whether they realize it or not, they're asking for the system to remain disorderly or to become even more disorderly.

This is not a new problem. We had the homeless problem in the '70s and in the '80s in Grand central and Penn Station and the bus terminal and in the subways. Actually, there was less talk of it in the subways in those days. The public transit centers were all, the main waiting rooms had pretty much become homeless shelters. It's a very sad commentary that homeless people feel safer where they're not supposed to be than they do in shelters. The city or the state haven't addressed that in 50 years.

Brian Anderson: Right. Well, it's a very troubling situation, and we're just going to have to watch and see how the mayoral candidates finally handle this. Dorothy, thank you very, very much for coming on. Please, listeners, don't forget to check out Dorothy Schulz's work on the City Journal website. That's www.city-journal.org. It will link to her author page in the description. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @cityjournal and on Instagram @cityjournal_MI. If you like what you've heard on the podcast, please give us a ratings on iTunes. Dorothy Schulz, thanks again very much for coming on.

Dorothy Moses Schulz: My pleasure. Thank you, Brian, for having me.

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Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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