Every New York City mayor wrestles with public safety -- and its massive cost.
Staffing at the NYPD, the nation's largest municipal police department, shrank over the past decade. This year, one of the Democratic candidates, William C. Thompson Jr., emphasizes early on that he will try to increase the uniformed ranks to about 37,000 if elected.
Currently the force is authorized for about 34,500 officers -- down from more than 40,000 in 2001.
How to pay for an expansion? Thompson was quick to say: "Number one, you're talking eventually . . . It wouldn't happen overnight." Having pledged not to increase taxes in the five boroughs, he told Newsday this week he'd look to fund the increase incrementally, with savings from certain contracted services, internal efficiencies, and civilianization -- suggestions which, he said, "have never been embraced."
"Police are behind desks doing jobs civilians could do," he said.
Seeking his second mayoral nomination in four years, Thompson, the former city comptroller, also recently proposed in a speech before the Association for a Better New York that 1,000 of the newest police hires go to five police precincts with the highest crime rates.
"To take these actions we have to navigate choppy fiscal waters," Thompson told the civic group. "But the real question isn't whether we can afford to provide adequate security for our children and families, it's whether we can afford not to."
He said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he hears both from within the department and from various neighborhoods where, "particularly in the evening, that there's just very little coverage, with robberies and burglaries creeping back up again -- and a general sense that people are feeling a little edgier."
Nonetheless, he said, "I continue to applaud the department and the communities on what they've done with regard to pushing crime down."
The city forecasts total NYPD costs for the coming fiscal year will rise above $4.9 billion.
For Thompson, like any other candidate, the issue is far from exotic. The issue of thinner police resources also is relevant in Nassau and Suffolk. In Nassau, precincts were merged while former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy made a mission of civilianizing some police jobs.
For many years, critics in the City Council have pushed for more police on the beat. And for many years, civilianization, already in place to some degree, has been a battleground between City Hall and municipal unions over the line between civilian and police duties.
Like several other mayoral candidates, Thompson also says the controversial "stop and frisk" policy "is a tool . . . I will not eliminate it, but I want to see it used correctly and it must pass constitutional muster."
The controversial policy, and its racial and demographic implications, was debated in 2009 when Thompson challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- a race the incumbent won with barely 51 percent despite spending a record $102 million on the campaign.