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Editorial Policing 101

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Statistics show that crime in New York City has fallen dramatically during Rudy Giuliani’s two terms as mayor. This is comforting news to anyone who lives, visits or does business in the city. There are, of course, many reasons for the drop, not least of which is a remarkably strong local economy that has broadly benefited residents. But much credit must go to Giuliani as well. His no-nonsense approach to fighting crime and his emphasis on community policing have helped make some city neighborhoods safer than they’ve been in decades.

Unfortunately, part and parcel with the drop in crime has been the growing perception that New York City police officers are out of control. The alleged assault on a Haitian immigrant in police custody followed last month by the shooting death of Amadou Diallo by three members of the Street Crimes Unit has shone a harsh light on policing tactics.

The Diallo shooting in particular has put Giuliani and his police commissioner, Howard Safir, on the hot seat. But rather than acknowledging and addressing the concerns of the community, the two men have essentially dismissed them, thus further fueling the perception of a rogue force unleashed on an unsuspecting city. When community leaders began picketing Police Headquarters and subjecting themselves to arrest earlier this month, Giuliani called it political grandstanding. Safir, meanwhile, turned down a chance to address a City Council hearing on the Street Crimes Unit, citing a previous commitment, only to beat a hasty retreat on the red-eye from L.A. after TV cameras revealed that commitment to be a night at the Academy Awards ceremony.

Safir did in the end address the City Council, but he, like Giuliani, gets no points for public relations savvy. To remedy this, the two men must step to the plate posthaste and prove, if they can, that the negative perception of the police department is just that: a perception. It was easy to dismiss as political grandstanding the civil disobedience arrests of former Mayor David Dinkins and the ever suspect Rev. Al Sharpton. But when Giuliani supporters like Floyd Flake and Ed Koch expresses their willingness to be arrested, and the Republican governor accuses the mayor of being insensitive, it’s time to descend the ivory tower.

Speaking candidly on the issue can only benefit the police force. The good cops far outnumber the bad, but to fail to weed out the bad ones does a disservice to the rest. The result can only be low morale and lack of discipline. Only the mayor and police commissioner have the power to make things right.

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