New York City, which had 43 homicides a week in 1990, has been averaging six so far this year. One of the biggest challenges for the next mayor will be to keep it that way.
The first major personnel decision for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successor will be to choose who will run the 34,000- member police department.
Lhota, who’s running an ad warning that de Blasio will usher in a return to the crime-ridden 1980s, says he wants to keep Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who’s overseen a 31 percent crime drop since 2001. De Blasio wants a new leader who would refine Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy that he says has destroyed trust between police and communities. He says he’s considering former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who’s also run departments in Boston and Los Angeles, and Philip Banks III, New York’s highest-ranking uniformed officer.
“Who the next mayor picks as police commissioner will send a message about where he stands,” said Ed Mullins, president of
the 13,000-member Sergeants Benevolent Association. “We have to convey to the people of the city that our goal is to keep crime as low as possible.”
Public safety has become the most divisive campaign issue as the two candidates vie to lead the most populous U.S. city and manage its $70 billion budget. Twenty-five years ago, New York was wracked by a drug epidemic, aggressive panhandlers, graffiti-marred subways and the most homicides of any U.S city. Last year’s 419 homicides were the lowest since 1962, when the city began keeping comparable records. As of Oct. 6, killings are running 25 percent below 2012.
The first task for the commissioner in 2014 is to train police to modify stop-and-frisk tactics and learn to work with a new federal monitor appointed by a judge to ensure that police don’t violate anyone’s rights.
Bratton, 66, served as Boston police commissioner before arriving in New York in 1994 to lead the NYPD. He resigned 27 months later after his relationship with Mayor Rudy Giuliani soured.
Bratton “wrestled with the same problems as ours in Los Angeles,” said Jeremy Travis, president of Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “He had to deal with a court-ordered federal monitor, the need to improve police-community relations, and he brought crime rates down.”
After an Oct. 2 speech in Manhattan, Bratton said that he’s been advising de Blasio and “potentially” would be interested in another run as commissioner.
Banks, 50, a 27-year veteran of the department, led its Community Affairs Bureau before becoming chief. He’s “a rising star, very well respected in and out of the department,” Travis said. “He’s sophisticated on the delicate issues involving the need for counter-terrorism surveillance and community trust.”
Dolores Jones-Brown, a former New Jersey prosecutor and a professor at John Jay, said an appointment of Banks, who is black, would help repair relationships with minorities.
The path to driving crime even lower lies in prevention by identifying the less than 1 percent of the population who are society’s most violent offenders, said David Kennedy, a de Blasio adviser who teaches crime prevention at John Jay.
In one program Kelly began a year ago, called Operation Crew Cut, 300 detectives use social media to target and confront small local, loosely organized gangs known as street crews that are mostly centered in public housing. Police say they account for about 30 percent of shootings in the city.
Bloomberg has credited the program with helping to achieve the record-low homicides this year, including three weeks since the program started during which the city experienced no homicides at all.
“The next mayor can build on what is already a record of success,” Kennedy said.