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Show of Force


And finally, and perhaps most disturbing of all to the cops, is the belief that despite the drop in crime, they've never gotten the emotional support from the mayor they deserve. "It's always 'More, more, more,' " one high-level member of the department says. In fact, the numbers are starting to slip. For the past two months, crime has been up in nearly a third of the city's 76 precincts. Clearly, double-digit reductions couldn't go on forever, especially without some major new strategies or initiatives. But with the election coming and the mayor hungry to make new crime-reduction announcements to pump up his margin of victory, the pressure's on.

"Captains are going to Compstat [the weekly accountability sessions for precinct commanders] and getting killed," says the veteran. "They have been told that if the numbers start to slip, examples are going to be made, and people are going to be hurt.

"What the department needs right now is some healing. Somebody's gotta take the reins and say, 'Look, we've done a remarkable job with crime; now it's time to do some other things. Fighting crime is only part of what the Police Department is supposed to do. Let's work on a lot of the stuff that's been given short shrift over the past couple of years, the things that help build ties between the community and the police.' "

If there were a real mayoral campaign going on right now—the Messinger-Sharpton distraction notwithstanding—then police brutality would be a real campaign issue. As things stand, however, it will likely be just so much political background noise. But substantive reform of the Police Department is something Mayor Giuliani should make a priority in his second term. Unlike any other mayor in recent memory, he has both the moral authority and the credibility on cops and crime to effect sweeping changes in the department. In the same way that he took office determined to bring crime down with smarter, more effective policing—and by shattering deeply held, decades-old beliefs about what cops could and couldn't achieve— he can now apply his implacable strengths to cop behavior. By demonstrating that violence and corruption are not endemic to police work, he could once again prove he's capable of destroying the conventional wisdom.

But this will require the same kind of leadership and determination he showed on crime. Commissioner Safir's program of "Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect" is not going to get it done. Known as CPR—snide cops are already referring to it as Certified Plunger Removers—the program is little more than a year-old public-relations campaign, and a weak one at that.

Reform ought to begin at the police academy. Recruits should be taught about the negative side of policing. Suggestions have been made that high-performing department veterans be brought in on a rotating basis—with a financial incentive—to have frank sessions with the recruits. It has also been suggested that rookies go back to the academy for a month or two after they've spent time on the street. This would give them a chance to get help understanding and dealing with the real world of the cop.

The mayor also needs to change the review process for cops accused of misbehaving. One way or the other, justice needs to be swift. Right now, it takes the CCRB at least eight months to issue any kind of finding on complaints. And if it rules that a case has merit, the Police Department can then take up to another year to make its judgment. Instead of allocating $15 million for his new commission, the mayor might have given some of that money to the CCRB to hire experienced investigators (right now it hires kids just out of college for $26,000 a year). The mayor also might have given some of it to the Police Department to hire trial judges to hear these cases.

Because the one factor that works best to control cop behavior is fear. It's important to train cops properly, and it's important to teach them history so they know that juries often acquit blatantly guilty people—even cop killers—when they believe that cops got out of control. And it's important that they know that between 1994 and 1996, the city paid $70 million to settle lawsuits resulting from police-abuse complaints.

But in the final analysis, punishment remains the best safeguard. "If cops fear that they can be caught, that they'll be fired, and that they'll be arrested and put into prison, they'll control their behavior," says the former precinct commander. "You may not change their attitude, but you can deal with that once the behavior is no longer a problem."


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