On April 26, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s now-famous statement moved the bar for responsible city government to an all-time low. What she meant to say was that, in the process of trying to give peaceful protestors the space to demonstrate about the death of Freddie Gray, marauding thugs were given free rein to sack her city.
Despite all the attention paid to what could have been no more than sloppy grammar, the Mayor allegedly said something far worse. According to Fox News correspondent Leland Vittert, a senior Baltimore police official told him the Mayor gave the police orders to stand down during the worst of the riots, and said, “Let them loot, it’s only property.” And loot they did. As millions of us watched on TV, the residents of Baltimore set 61 structural fires, 144 vehicle fires, and caused damage and inventory loss to 351 businesses. All while the Baltimore police stood passively by. Total losses were estimated at close to $9 million.
Less than a month later, The New York City Council seems determined to help New York plummet to Baltimore’s level, by throwing away years of proven public safety policies. In all five boroughs, soon those who wish to urinate on the sidewalk will be given the go-ahead, so to speak.
This is just one aspect of the current administration’s willingness to let New York devolve from one of America’s safest cities to one of the most dangerous. The city also looks to decriminalize public consumption of alcohol, bicycling on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark, failure to obey a park sign, littering, and unreasonable noise. Instead of facing criminal court for any of these offenses, violators would get a ticket to an administrative court, such as the Environmental Control Board, which they could then use to litter the sidewalk they just relieved themselves on.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has nothing good to say about this plan. “I’m not supportive of the idea of civil summonses for these offenses because I think that they’d be basically totally ignored…” he told the City Council at a hearing in March. And Bratton is quite the expert on controlling crime in New York.
A little background:
In 1990 New York City had 2,245 homicides, and suffered through 10,000 felonies a week. Property crimes were accepted as an inevitable fact of life; car owners put signs in the windshield that said “Radio already stolen”. After the famous “wilding” incident, where a 100-pound woman was raped and beaten into a 12-day coma, no sane person even thought about visiting Central Park after dark.
Then, in 1994, Rudy Giuliani was elected Mayor, largely because he promised to solve New York’s crime problem. Much to everyone’s surprise, he actually kept his promise. He made Bratton Police Commissioner, and in the eight years they worked as a team, shootings fell by 75%. Rapes decreased by 1,200 per year. Robberies fell from 85,883 per year to 32,213; and auto theft fell from 111,611 to 35,673. People even got to keep their car radios.
Hundreds of articles have been written about the reasons for the dramatic drop, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The “Broken Windows” theory of policing, along with the CompStat method of putting police where the crimes occur, deserve much of the credit.
The Broken Windows theory says that if a vacant building has one broken window, it sends a message to rock-throwers that future rock-throwing will have no consequences. But when police enforce laws on minor offenses, perpetrators clearly see that there’s a new Sheriff is town, and he means business. Giuliani and Bratton put this theory to work, with the help of a CompStat, city-wide database that they used to put more police officers on the blocks where the most crimes happen. Some critics call this harassment. People with spouses, children, wallets, purses, windows, and stereos call it public safety.
Reversing a turnaround
So why the rush to break a system that was working so well?
It’s clear that the current Mayor, Bill De Blasio, has a deep-seated bias against the NYPD. In sharp contrast to Giuliani’s platform, a large part of De Blasio’s campaign was built on his promise to put an end to Stop and Frisk policing. Then, in a December press conference, after a grand jury declined to indict the officer accused of killing Eric Garner, De Blasio drove another wedge between the police and the citizens with his famous speech about his mixed-race son, Dante. He said, “… Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.”
Former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was outraged by DeBlasio’s statements. After two New York policemen were shot by a man who bragged publicly that he would kill two cops to avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Kelly said the Mayor was partly to blame, claiming that the Mayor’s Dante speech set off a firestorm of emotion.
Pat Lynch, the head of the largest police union in New York City, agreed. Commenting on the deaths of the two officers, he said, “There’s blood on many hands tonight. That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.”
With this background, is it any wonder that so many New York police turn their backs on De Blasio when he speaks at police funerals?
Even though they’re not fully implemented, De Blasio’s soft on crime policies look like a return to the bad old days of the early 90s. In the week of May 4 – 10, shootings increased 66 percent, and the number of victims also rose 76 percent, with 44 people injured by gunfire in just one week. One police source out it succinctly. “Warm weather means there are more people on the streets carrying guns, and it is only going to get worse — no matter how many cops you hire — if you don’t back the police.”
Of course, New York has a long slide down the slippery slope before they sink to Baltimore’s level. In the few weeks since the Freddie Gray riots, there has been a drastic increase in shootings and homicides in Baltimore. More than 50 people have been shot. At least 10 have been shot and four killed between May 9 and May 15. Nonfatal shootings are up nearly 50 percent.
But the most ironic development in this race to the bottom? On May 13, it was discovered that two corrections officers from the city of Baltimore, Tamika Cobb and Kendra Richard, were videotaped looting a 7-11 store on April 25, in the reddish-orange glow of burning cars and businesses.
Video: By Mano Vuelta (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIjaVF4ZQyM) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons