In March 1997, New York City was very early into what would become a long decline in its crime rate. The number of officers was inflated by thousands of extra officers hired with an extra tax surcharge under the “Safe Streets Safe City” plan under former Mayor Dinkins and his police commissioner Ray Kelly. New York City had 42,715 full time equivalent police officers, 2.7 times as many as the US. average per 100,000 residents. By March 2007 crime had plunged, a decrease widely credited to the “Broken Window” and “Compstat” innovations of former Mayor Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and his successors. The city promoted itself as the safest in the nation. New York City had 46,776 police officers, 2.8 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents. In March 2017 crime had plunged further. Mayor Bill DeBlasio had been elected in part by promising to get an out of control police department back under control. New York City had 49,477 police officers, or 3.0 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents, though their mean pay was only slightly above the U.S. average.
So data from the various Censuses of Governments that I have tabulated over the decades has shown. But is that really the case? And what about the NYC Fire Department, the much-criticized NYC Corrections Department, the state prisons, and comparable agencies elsewhere in New York State, the NY metro area and country? Are we really being told the truth about the actual reason for the plan to close the jails at Rikers Island? Let’s take a look.
One of the big issues in last year’s New York City budget negotiations was the level of police staffing. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the politicians it helps keep in office asserted that without thousands of additional dues-paying members, New Yorkers would no be longer kept safe. The debate went on and on for months, with many articles and reports from many news sources based on many press releases and statements from many interested parties. Through it all, however, I cannot recall a single report providing objective information on how many police officers New York City already has, relative to its population, compared with other places. In the end the number of officers was increased by 1,000, although I don’t recall any PBA statements conceding that its members were willing to keep us safe in exchange.
This is the fourth post in a series on state and local government employment for FY 2002 to FY 2014, based on data from the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau. The data shows that while police officer employment is down per 100,000 residents in New York City compared with 12 years earlier, mostly due to falling behind the city’s population growth (though the number of officers also decreased), it remains at the same ratio it has been relative to the U.S. average. New York City had 2.8 times as many police officers per 100,000 residents as the U.S. average at a time that New Yorkers were being threatened if they didn’t’ pay up for thousands more, and nobody deigned to even talk about this.