NYC mayor's public safety plan more sizzle than steak?

AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

New York City Mayor Eric Adams was elected on a tough-on-crime platform that promised to restore a semblance of sanity to the city’s public safety efforts, or at least a turn away from the policies of the Bill de Blasio administration. But as Adams nears his 100th day in office, crime in New York is still trending in the wrong direction, and there’s a growing chorus of voices raising complaints over some of the mayor’s strategies.

Former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, for example, is less than impressed with Adams’ call for departmental chiefs to start walking a beat on the city’s subway system; a high-profile endeavor that Bratton says is nothing more than a p.r. stunt.

“While I’ve been very supportive of the mayor and his public safety initiatives, I cannot support this one. It creates significant safety risks for the Chiefs and public,” Bratton said on Twitter. “Transit policing, like that of housing developments, requires significant safety training. They must know how to open subway doors in an emergency, calmly and safely evacuate passengers from disabled trains into tunnels to exits … Almost none of the current NYPD leadership, including the Transit Bureau, has that specialized training or experience. Everything old can be new again, but only if it learns from the past mistakes and successes.”

Bratton’s respectful critique is echoed by disgust in the upper ranks of the NYPD, the proud veterans of the decades-long battle that drove crime to historic lows. Some are especially disdainful of being assigned to what one calls “a dog and pony show” by Adams, who retired from the NYPD without ever having run a precinct or major patrol division.

“It goes to show you that the man never held an executive position in any paramilitary organization. He never had a command,” a law enforcement source told me. “You have to put the blame strictly on the commanding officer of that district and their executive officer. ‘What are you doing about it?’ Quiz him, question him or her. Tell them, ‘I want this place covered, and you get out there and do it.’ [Adams] wants to show an omnipresence, which goes to show you he has no clue what police work is all about. He’s reduced chiefs down to a fucking sergeant. It’s not done that way.”

While some in law enforcement are unhappy with Adams’ efforts to date, an even bigger issue is looming on the horizon. Adams ran for office promising to fulfill de Blasio’s pledge to shut down Rikers Island, but as the Washington Post reports, the plan seems to generating opposition from all sides.

The current plan would raze the 11,300-bed jail complex — which long has been plagued by horrific living conditions and officials’ malfeasance — and replace it by August 2027 with four new high-rise lockups located in each of the city’s boroughs, excluding Staten Island. Total capacity would be 3,544 inmates, with each site having 886 beds. Only one would house women.

As of last week, though, the city’s jail population had swelled to nearly 5,700 detainees, reversing a sharp decline early in the coronavirus pandemic. Adams has continued to double-down on tough-on-crime policies likely to land more people behind bars, rolling out a modified version of a controversial anti-crime task force that was disbanded in 2020 for its aggressive tactics.

The moderate Democrat and retired police captain is staring at a no-win situation politically.

Community activists and elected officials in neighborhoods identified for the new lockups are demanding he significantly reduce their size or find new locations. Many members of his party’s progressive faction want him to de-emphasize incarceration, move ahead with the project under the specifications approved in 2019 and speed the snail’s pace that has hampered construction and related work throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, some Democrats and the corrections officers’ union want Adams to scrap that plan completely and instead create a new and improved facility on Rikers Island.

If crime stats were dropping, Adams might have more leeway here, but his entire campaign was centered around the idea that he could reverse the rising tide of criminal offenses that the city has seen over the past three years. With the mayor’s new anti-gun unit hitting the streets, one of Adams’ most publicized initiatives is now in effect, but if there’s not a substantial reduction in shootings and homicides over the next few weeks expect even more knives to come out over Adams’ crime-fighting plan.

As for the New Yorkers who just want to make it home safely at night, I’m still optimistic that the Supreme Court will offer them some measure of relief when it issues its decision in the NYSRPA v. Bruen case in a few months, but I think we all suspect that no matter what SCOTUS says, New York City (and its mayor) are going to continue to make it as hard as they can for law-abiding New Yorkers to legally bear arms in self-defense. Here’s hoping that the Court’s opinion is strong enough to shut down those attempts to do an end-run around the Constitution, and that if nothing else New Yorkers soon have the means and the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones from those who would do them harm.