Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and city Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said they are concerned about the impact that budget cuts will have on the number of uniformed officers in the police force and the fight for public safety.
Our office has never faced a challenge as significant as the one posed by this fiscal crisis, said Brown during an annual legislative breakfast Friday that was attended by Queens elected officials. I am very much concerned that we not compromise the enormous progress that we have made in reducing crime over the years.
According to Brown, violent crime including homicides, robberies, rapes and felony assaults has decreased across the borough by 5.6 percent since last year and there has been a decline of nearly 74 percent in Queens homicides since he came into office in 1991.
The current budget crisis at both the city and state levels will likely result in a decrease in the number of working police officers, as well as a drop in money for prosecutions, according to Brown and Vallone, the chairman of the City Councils Public Safety Committee, which oversees the Police Department.
During the November budget negotiations, the NYPD was reduced from 39,110 uniformed members to 37,210. This is a peak number, which means in June 2003, prior to the new class of recruits being hired, the force will be as low as 34,500 officers, Vallone said in a letter to the TimesLedger.
Vallone attributed the large decline in crime over the past 12 years to the implementation of the Safe Streets/Safe City Program in 1991, which called for an increase in the number of police officers from about 31,545 to 38,310.
The best proof we have that that number works are the results, said Vallone. More cops equals less crime.
Vallone pointed out that the implementation of Operation Impact, a month-old program that has put more police officers in precincts with high crime rates by enlisting officers from other precincts on overtime shifts, had already resulted in a 50 percent drop in crime in the areas where extra police officers were deployed.
Programs like that work but you need the personnel, said Vallone.
Relying on officers from one precinct to work in another precinct results in the weakening of the precincts from which officers are pulled, said the councilman.
Although Mayor Bloomberg has backed off his threat to lay off police officers, Vallone said the city could effectively reduce the number of uniformed officers in the police force by not hiring new officers to replace those who retire or resign.
They usually hire as much as they need to hit the amount theyve set. Now theyre just going to hire less because the amount theyve set is 37,000 and change, said Vallone.
The number of hires could decrease even more or the hiring could be delayed for six months to a year if the commuter tax and other anticipated funding does not materialize, said Vallone.
Bloomberg has said he plans on hiring 300 traffic enforcement agents to generate enough extra revenue in additional summonses to enable the NYPD to avoid laying off officers.
We are currently poised in a delicate balancing act between doing our fair share to help maintain the fiscal integrity of the city and state, and our obligation to meet our mandate to ensure public safety, Brown told a room full of legislators. As we move forward, I ask all of you to help ensure that we do not return to the high crime rates and violence that we experienced in the early 90s.
Vallone plans to hold a hearing in March to discuss the pending police cuts.
Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2003 Community News Group
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