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Taking a bite out of '03 crime stats

January 9, 2004

The NYPD's 2003 crime numbers are in and they're all good. But let's put this in perspective.

While the current department leadership can justly claim credit, the roots of the decline go back to the Giuliani administration and its first top cop, Bill Bratton.

Yes, for the 10th straight year, major crime categories are down - overall by 5 percent. The FBI calls New York City "the safest big city in America." Although up slightly to 597, homicides - the bellwether crime - remain below 600, among the lowest since 1963.

But now let's return to yesteryear. In 1994, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani takes office. He drops Ray Kelly, commissioner for the past 14 months under David Dinkins. Under Kelly's predecessor Lee Brown, crime had reached record highs, homicides hitting 2,262 in 1990. By the end of 1993, Kelly's only full year as commissioner, they'd dipped to 1,951.

Giuliani appoints Bratton. By the end of 1994, crime plummets, homicides dropping to 1,572. The department underwent a cultural revolution. Strange as it sounds now, since the Knapp Commission scandals of the early 1970s, the NYPD's focus had been on preventing corruption.

Street cops, for example, were not permitted to make drug arrests for fear they might succumb to corruption temptations. Giuliani declared that strategy flawed on two counts. First, by not making drug arrests, crime proliferated. Second, New Yorkers, seeing cops not arresting dealers, believed the cops were corrupt.

And as crime rose throughout the '70s and '80s, commanders felt themselves unable to prevent it. Morale flopped. As a former top police official put it, "We monitored robberies, but all we did was write them down."

Under Bratton, this all changed. As John Timoney put it in his inaugural speech as first deputy commissioner in 1995, "This is the first time in my 28 years as a cop that the department's first priority is fighting crime."

The department also developed a new accountability in weekly COMPSTAT meetings. Said a former deputy commissioner: "The agency needed a kick in the -- "Crime up in your precinct? You had to explain it. Precinct commanders found it easier to crack down on crime than appear before Chief of Department Louis Anemone and COMPSTAT architect Jack Maple.

By the end of 1995, homicides plunged even further - to 1,180. Giuliani talked of "locking in" the gains, indicating he didn't think the number could get much lower.

But after he dismissed Bratton in 1996 for trying to glom credit for the declines, crime continued to drop under Howard Safir. By 2000, Safir's last year, homicides had fallen to 681. Under his successor Bernie Kerik, they dropped to 658.

Now, Kelly has returned and crime continues to fall, despite a 10 percent personnel cut and resources Kelly has had to divert to fighting terrorism.

Meanwhile, Bratton has become police chief in Los Angeles. In 2002, L.A. had the highest murder rate in the country, with 658 homicides. In 2003, Bratton's first full year there, L.A. finished with an estimated total just under 500 - a decrease of 23 percent.

Making Nice. Are Ray Kelly and the head of the FBI's New York office, Pat D'Amuro, on the same page in fighting terrorism? Asked his opinion of Kelly's overseas intelligence service, which has stationed detectives around the world to compete with the FBI, D'Amuro said yesterday, "I don't know why he is doing it," adding the formation of the unit was an internal NYPD matter.

Asked about the NYPD's Intelligence Division's undercover operation last fall along the Jersey shore that never informed the FBI or New Jersey authorities, D'Amuro said, "I'm not going to tell the police commissioner what he can do and can't do." No comment from Kelly.

More on the mounted. Police sources say two more horses have died in the department's mounted unit, bringing to six the number that have died in the past 12 months.

According to an officer in the unit, one horse died of colic that developed two days before without being treated. The second died after being given an injection after he became agitated while being shod. Both deaths occurred in December.

When Newsday reported the deaths of two horses from colic last November, Chief Michael Scagenelli maintained they died of natural causes, not human error. Neither he, Dr. Dennis Farrell, the department's vet; Capt. Christopher Acerbo, the Mounted Unit's commander; nor Deputy Chief Michael Collins of the Public Information Office returned calls from Newsday.

The Private Life. This is Michael O'Looney's last week as department spokesman before heading to Merrill Lynch. Question: Will an officer from the Ninth Precinct still be required to chase away the homeless from O'Looney's apartment building, or can that cop now go fight crime?

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.