Oct. 29, 2012

Oct. 29, 2012 Credit: NYPD in Times Square. (Getty)

To hear the noisy competition for street cred play out among the city's Democratic mayoral candidates, you'd think the NYPD was a constant, lurking menace to municipal peace and harmony. But in fact, that notion is a bizarro-world twisting of the truth.

The city's massive police department has shortcomings. But its role in keeping crime down in the past two decades has been remarkable. One statistic: The number of murders in the city last year was the lowest it has been in more than five decades and 19 percent lower than in 2011. Our streets are safer than they've been in recent memory.

Still, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is peddling a measure that would saddle the NYPD with a leaden new layer of oversight: an inspector general who, in addition to the mayor and police commissioner, would ride herd on the organization. If you were looking for a way to impede an effective agency, you couldn't do better.

At the same time, City Comptroller John Liu is saying he would kill the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, given the intense community opposition to it.

Stop and frisk does raise tricky questions. It forces an agency of nearly 35,000 officers to make highly nuanced, split-second judgments. And the vast majority of stops do not result in arrests. So the program leaves thousands and thousands of young men angry that their dignity has been bruised because of their race or their neighborhood.

But here's what makes the policy such an exceedingly tough call: 96 percent of the murder decline from 2011 to 2012 can be attributed to fewer black and Hispanic murder victims, says the NYPD. Assuming that stop and frisk plays at least some positive role on the streets, it's obvious that it has improved safety in minority communities.

All told, 60 percent of 2012's murder victims were black and 27 percent were Hispanic. So how does the next mayor plan to keep these murder rates falling? And if stop and frisk isn't acceptable, what is? The candidates haven't said much about that. Quinn did say she'd ask Raymond Kelly to stay on as commissioner. (It's not clear he'd say yes.) But how about substance instead of sound and fury?

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