Gotham Gazette

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Public Safety

Kerik's Recipe for Success

During Howard Safir's tenure as police commissioner, the city enjoyed some of the lowest crime rates in recent history. That decrease in crime, ironically, might create some greater challenges for Safir's successor, Bernard B. Kerik, who took over the New York Police Department in August after two and a half years as New York City's correction commissioner.

Kerik has sixteen months, under Giuliani's watch, to earn himself some credibility - a difficult task in the face of the criticism and bad feeling that Safir inspired. In addition to crime fighting skills, Kerik will need extraordinary diplomatic skills. These will help him accomplish three critical tasks:

Overcome departmental opposition

First and foremost, Kerik must put to rest notions that he is unqualified, and any resentment this may cause. Critics are quick to point out that Kerik does not have a college degree. To qualify to enter the department, officers must have earned 60 college credits; all positions above lieutenant require a college degree. That Kerik does not have a degree, critics maintain, sends the wrong message - especially at a time when the department is struggling to find qualified candidates.

Some also object that Kerik spent only eight years on the force, never ascending above the rank of officer; other qualified candidates for commissioner, such as Joseph Dunne, have spent their entire career on the force, climbing the ranks.

Keep cops on the force and recruit new ones

Twenty years on the force earns a cop the right to a $40,000-a-year pension, and in the next four years, one in four cops, or about 10,000 officers, will be eligible for retirement. In the last two months, First Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher and Chief of Personnel Michael Markman have retired, as did Sgt. Richard Romano, a twenty year veteran featured in the NYPD's latest ad campaign to recruit new officers. "Monetarily it doesn't really pay now," the sergeant explained, "with the incentive you get to retire."

As officers retire and others are promoted, the demand for new officers continues. The NYPD has had trouble recruiting new cops for the past four years, and the numbers aren't getting any better. The most recent recruitment effort, which included letters to all eligible candidates from the last four exams and 27,000 follow-up phone calls, yielded a mere 1,600 new recruits. Last year's recruitment efforts, which cost $10 million, produced 10,301 test-takers, or roughly $1,000 per applicant. The police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), cites low wages as one of the main obstacles to recruiting more officers. Starting salary is $31,300, growing to $49,023 after five years. The PBA continues to lobby aggressively for higher wages, including a high profile media campaign. Kerik must address these issues of compensation, to keep the grumbling PBA happy, and to ensure a steady influx of new recruits.

Improve police/community relations, especially with minority communities

Improving race relations is not the sole responsibility of the police commissioner. Still, to survive politically, Kerik will have to reach out to minority communities to diminish feelings of mistrust and anger that have mounted during Safir's tenure, thanks to activities such as racial profiling, which the US Commission on Civil Rights found was a factor in NYPD stop and frisks. Some community leaders are disappointed that former Brooklyn precinct commander Joseph Dunne was not chosen to be commissioner. Dunne, who was instead appointed first deputy commissioner, has a long track record of working with black leaders. Councilwoman Annette Robinson, who is black, said that passing over Dunne represents a lost opportunity to work with minority communities: "I don't know that the mayor felt there was a need to build bridges. Joe Dunne could have done that. I am saddened that he was not give that chance." Kerik, quick to defend himself, says he has not been given a fair chance, and will make efforts to visit various communities. Indeed, the day after his appointment, he and Mayor Giuliani attended Sunday mass at Bright Light Baptist Church in East New York, Brooklyn.

And of course, in addition to all this, Kerik is expected to keep crime down and arrests up.

Jessica Green is a student of public policy at Columbia University's Graduate School of International and Public Affairs.

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