New York City touts itself as being the safest big city in America, and murders in the first nine months of this year declined by 18 percent from their level in 2006. Various commentators credit the police department with having prevented another terrorist attack in the city. A recent poll found 64 percent of New Yorkers approve of the job Ray Kelly is doing as police commissioner. And the furor over police conduct in black communities, which erupted after the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell last November, largely has faded from the front pages.
Despite all the good news, though, the city's police face a number of challenges. Amid all the praise for Kelly, many black and Latino New Yorkers -- particularly young people -- see themselves singled out by officers and subjected to outright abuse. Complaints against officers a have reached record levels while the Bloomberg administration dismisses much of the criticism -- both of the department itself and of the independent agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, charged with policing the police.
In many neighborhoods confrontations with the police are a daily fact of life, but in others, demonstrations provide the spark for disputes between police and civilians. While the police cracked down on protests during the Giuliani administration, the policy gained force and it seems a greater degree of public acceptance after the September 11 attacks as the administration sought to equate policing demonstrations with preventing terrorism. It could not, though, fend off all the legal challenges, particularly over the arrests at the 2004 Republican convention. So far, in court, the police have tended to be on the losing side.
Against this backdrop, the department has found it increasingly difficult to attract new recruits. The latest round of contract negotiations between the city and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association ended with an arbitration panel ruling that rookie cops would only make about $25,000 a year, about half what their counterparts take home in Los Angeles.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Kelly have highlighted the starting pay as a major problem but the union has chosen to focus on the wages for experienced officers. NYPD officers, the union says, make far less than their seasoned counterparts in the suburbs, a fact the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association blames for 4,500 departures from police ranks in the last five years. The recruitment difficulties and the departures have left the department about 2,800 officers short of its projected level, According to one estimate.
This week, Gotham Gazette examines several of the issues confronting the New York City Police Department:
Policing the Police
The number of complaints against the police has increased rapidly in recent years, and critics charge the department and the civilian agency charged with monitoring it do not do enough to stop the abuses.
The Failure of Civilian Oversight
The former executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board argues that the agency has been co-opted by the police department and is not serving as the strong and independent agency New Yorkers need.
Stop and Frisk
Police stopped and searched more than half a million New Yorkers in 2006, making the procedure as common in some communities as brushing one's teeth.
Up Against the Constitution
The police department considers its handling of protests at the 2004 Republican convention a major success, but the courts do not seem to agree.
A Police Shortage
A police presence prevents crime, writes the head of the City Council Public Safety Committee, which makes the shrinking of the New York City Police Department particularly distressing.
New York's 'Ring of Steel'
The police department says a plan for high-tech security downtown is simple common sense, but critics see it as a waste of money and an invasion of privacy.
Police in the Schools
Schools have metal detectors, safety agents and even police officers. What effect does this have on what goes on in classrooms and hallways?
In the wake of the shooting death of two of its officers, great changes may be underway in the way New York City's 4,500-member volunteer police force is trained, deployed, supervised...and protected.
50 Bullets, Many Issues
The shooting of Sean Bell on his wedding echoes other shooting of unarmed black men by police. A look at the reactions, the issues raised and what some say should be done to prevent similar tragedies.