“How lovely when we see the police! They are my friends.”
So said an elderly lady attending a police-community meeting in the Bronx several years ago. Her voice is representative of the thousands of senior citizens, middle-aged workers, and small-business owners who fervently support the New York Police Department. These vulnerable New Yorkers want more police presence, not less; they view officers as their only protection against predation. What will the activists seeking to defund the NYPD tell these law-abiding residents—that they are now on their own?
The people who live in high-crime neighborhoods understand more about policing than the anti-cop agitators. Since the early 1990s, when the homicide toll in New York City topped 2,000 per year, tens of thousands of lives have been saved, thanks to the NYPD’s highly responsive, data-driven policing. That policing model, known as Compstat, holds precinct commanders ruthlessly accountable for crime in their jurisdiction; it has driven homicide down 86 percent from 1990, to only 319 in 2019. Most of the lives saved by suppressing crime since then have been black and Hispanic.
At the same time that the department has lowered crime to levels that would have been viewed as unimaginable three decades ago, it has radically cut its use of lethal force; the NYPD has among the lowest per-capita rates of officer shootings among big-city departments nationwide. In 2018, the most recent year for which full data are available, NYPD recorded the lowest number of shooting incidents since records were first kept in 1971—35—and the lowest number of subjects shot and killed: five. Four of those suspects were threatening officers with guns or knives; the fifth, reported as being armed by bystanders, pointed what appeared to be a gun at the responding cops.
New Yorkers who live in gang territory still fear lawlessness, however, and implore the police to bring order to the streets. At the 41st Precinct in the South Bronx a while back, residents complained repeatedly about large groups of youth hanging out on corners. “There’s too much fighting,” one woman said. “There was more than 100 kids the other day; they beat on a girl about 14 years old.” A middle-aged man asked: “Why are they hanging out in crowds on the corners? No one does anything about it. Can’t you arrest them for loitering?” These citizens know that violence can erupt out of street chaos. A 2015 Quinnipiac poll found that 61 percent of black voters in New York City wanted the police to “issue summonses or make arrests” in their neighborhood for quality-of-life offenses, more than white voters asked the same question. Back at the 41st Precinct, the president of a local mentoring program begged for a police watchtower in his neighborhood. Whenever he hears gunfire, he said, he runs toward the shooting, terrified that one of his three children has been struck. If the police go away, these law-abiding people will feel abandoned, and rightly so.
The claim that better-funded social services can deliver public safety is baseless. New York City tried that experiment for decades, and it was a resounding failure. No city spent more on welfare, yet crime continued to rise. Only Compstat policing reversed the chronic lawlessness of New York.
It is equally preposterous to say that social services are underfunded. The city spends a whopping $8.2 billion on social services, constituting more than 8 percent of the city’s budget, and that sum does not include all the social workers larded throughout the Department of Education. Government workers cannot substitute for the two-parent family in teaching children discipline and self-control. When parents are absent in their children’s lives, police are the second-best solution to crime—the only other one proven to work.
Fewer cops and depleted NYPD funding mean longer response times and less training. Cops who cannot get back-up quickly when confronting a violently resisting suspect are more likely to escalate their own use of force. Officers are desperate for more hands-on tactical and de-escalation training. What they don’t need is implicit-bias training, which is an insult to their intelligence and street knowledge.
Supervisors should constantly emphasize the need for courtesy and respect. But police officers daily confront a degree of social breakdown that would be unimaginable to most of us, and yet they continue to believe in the good people of their community. The city should not let those people down by caving to anti-cop hysteria.
Photo by Justin Heiman/Getty Images