During the mayoral tenures of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, crime in every form plummeted throughout New York City. The mandate to clean up the mess that Gotham had become worked, and cops were proud to play a key role in removing the decades-old image of “the ungovernable city.” By the time I was sworn in as a New York City police officer in 1997, the city’s revival was well underway.
That year—with the city’s murder rate reduced 66 percent since the start of the decade—businesses were investing in the Big Apple, parks were transforming into green respites amid the concrete panorama, and Disney had arrived in Times Square, all confirming that New York had become a family-friendly place. The NYPD’s improved technology in tracking crime and maintaining public-order statistics allowed the department to allocate police resources more effectively, despite some drawbacks. Less measurable were the sweat, toil, tears, and blood—too much blood—that had been spent by members of the NYPD in serving the city. In the face of this enormous effort and sacrifice, all who took the time to notice witnessed the tangible result: every community in the city was safer than it had been.
That all began to change in January 2014, when Bill de Blasio, who had run a campaign highly critical of the police, became mayor. Throughout most of his mayoralty, de Blasio benefited from the NYPD’s continued success in keeping crime down, especially in his first term, under the guidance of Commissioner William J. Bratton. But he gradually shifted the public narrative from highlighting the success of the NYPD to vilifying the department. By 2020, especially in the aftermath of riots in June, the city’s crime rate was accelerating upward, even as more public officials portrayed the NYPD as an institution that could not be trusted, staffed by badge-wearing rogues serving a systemically flawed government.
Cops don’t play identity politics or enforce political doctrine—when you call us, we respond—but mayors do. A “woke” administration’s substitution of political ideology for real solutions has ramifications on the whole of city governance, but especially on the administration of public order. Disparaging those who provide security has achieved disastrous results. Today in New York City, soaring crime rates have returned, social disorder is commonplace, and even sensational headlines no longer shock us. In May, a four-year-old girl toy-shopping the day before Mother’s Day was shot in Times Square, where Disney once heralded a newly safe city.
Regrettably, the NYPD over the past few years has become a story of “what should have been.” Public officials should have pointed to the relatively small number of tragedies involving the NYPD for what they were: rare instances in an otherwise highly successful, decades-long crime-fighting initiative. These unfortunate incidents should have been used to understand better how policing works—and, sometimes, how it doesn’t work—instead of as occasions for vilifying the entire profession. Principled political leaders should have looked to see how New York could improve policing even further, rather than dismantling proven methods that had made New York the nation’s safest large city. Instead, activist politicians continue to stoke fear and apprehension in their pursuit of electoral success. Much of the rhetoric and policy proposals of the mayoral candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed de Blasio offer little encouragement.
We must do better. If we are to maintain a prosperous and vibrant New York, public safety must once again become a top priority. Disparaging (and abusing) the police is a slippery slope to lawlessness, danger, and chaos—and we’ve already seen more than enough previews of where it can lead. New York City voters themselves have made clear to pollsters that public safety is their top concern. Whoever the next mayor may be, New Yorkers together must demand real leadership.
Photo by Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images