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The Decline in Homicides: Telling It My Way

November 26, 2007

Anyone wondering why the Police Commissioner of New York City is regarded as the influential man in law enforcement need go no farther than Friday’s front page of the New York Times and its article, headlined: “City Homicides Still Dropping, To Under 500. Lowest Toll in Decades.”

Recent police commissioners, who have lowered the crime city’s crime rate, have been able to convey the story of their successes, in some cases by rewriting history, in others or by conveniently forgetting large slabs of it.

A decade ago, between 1994 and 1996, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani convinced New York City’s generally pliant media that the decline in homicides — the bellwether crime that cannot be covered up or dummied down — was greater under them than at any other time in the department’s history.

They credited COMPSTAT, the revolutionary idea of Bratton’s top aide, the late, great Jack Maple. COMPSTAT, they said, had made commanders accountable by forcing them to track crime trends and pro-actively attack crime problems, not merely react as the NYPD had done for too many years..

After Giuliani fired Bratton in 1996, the mayor and Bratton’s successor Howard Safir convinced the media that homicides were declining even faster under Safir than they had under Bratton. Giuliani began referring to Safir as “the greatest police commissioner in New York City’s history.”

In 2001, Giuliani and Safir’s successor Bernie Kerik touted the continued decline of homicides as evidence of Kerik’s prowess. Despite Kerik’s indictment earlier this month, Giuliani still cites the city’s lower homicide rate to justify his choice of Kerik for police commissioner.

Where does all this leave current commissioner Ray Kelly? Well, back in the early Giuliani years, Giuliani and Bratton mocked his crime-fighting efforts.

In 1990, under Giuliani’s predecessor David Dinkins, homicides had risen to 2245 and remained above 2000 for the next two years. Even after homicides began to fall in 1993 after Kelly had been commissioner for a year, Giuliani and Bratton’s top aides belittled Kelly’s philosophy of “community policing.” They referred to it as “social work.”

One of the reasons Giuliani fired Kelly was his inability to explain how he would lower the crime rate. Kelly has never forgiven him. Nor has he forgiven anyone else for not stating, categorically and unequivocally, that it was under him that homicides in New York City began to decline..

It took fourteen years but Kelly has finally lived to see his story told the way he wants it, and on the most influential piece of media real estate— the New York Times’ front page. Here from last Friday, is the Times’ interpretation of the falling homicide rate, which must make Kelly beam:

“Homicides began falling in the early 1990s, when Raymond W. Kelly first served as police commissioner, and plummeted further under subsequent commissioners. Mr. Kelly returned to serve under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2002, the first year there were fewer than 600 homicides. There were 587 that year, down from 649 in the previous year.”

No mention of Bratton. No mention of Giuliani. No mention of COMPSTAT.

As Maple might have said, “How scrumptious!”

No Scandal Here. [Con’t] Along with presenting their successes to themedia in the best light, the best police commissioners are also able to downplay or even ignore negative stories.

Commissioner Kelly has proven expert in that, especially with stories of corrupt cops that the department’s Internal Affairs bureau has failed to apprehend.

Last week the Nassau County District Attorney announced the arrest of ex-Queens cop Hubertus Vannes, who allegedly sold guns he stole from the 110th precinct, where he had worked. D.A. Katherine Rice said, “This case represents the most egregious betrayal of the badge imaginable.” So far as we can tell, Kelly has said nothing.

Vannes is the third cop arrested on serious charges in the past month by agencies outside the NYPD. Narcotics cop James Calderon was arrested two weeks ago for allegedly running a Bronx-based cocaine and heroin ring. Federal Drug Enforcement agents and the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s office developed the case. The department’s Internal Affairs Bureau later joined the investigation.

On Oct. 31, Glen Smokler a Manhattan cop from the 30th precinct, was arrested in Suffolk County, L.I.. as part of a multi-million dollar marijuana ring that smuggled drugs from Canada Suffolk county police made that arrest. No word from Kelly on that one either.

While past commissioners have released information on corrupt cops, such as the annual Internal Affairs report on errant officers, Kelly has stonewalled. Most recently, he attempted to keep secret IAB’s 2006 annual report, which was disclosed by the Post.

Corruption scandals occur in New York City every 20 years. We’re still five years short of the time we can expect the next one. Judging from these recent cases, the day of accounting is coming.

The Truest Test?
Last week’s arrest in Georgia of Mikhail Malleyev, accused of killing Russian-born dentist Daniel Malakov, provides an insight into which police commissioner is behind the city’s declining crime rate.

Malleyev was identified through a matching fingerprint taken 13 years ago in a fare-beating case.

And he wasn’t the only alleged murderer nabbed that way. Remember John Royster? In 1996 he murdered a woman on Park Avenue and nearly beat three other women to death. He, too, was identified through a fare-beating print.

Well, thirteen years ago was 1994. That was the year Bratton and Maple established the “zero tolerance” approach of policing. That meant arresting — hence fingerprinting — people for such minor crimes as fare-beating.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt