The effectiveness of stop and frisk tactics perhaps explains why New York City this year will likely record the fewest number of murders in more than half a century. In contrast, in cities like Chicago, the murder figures are going through the roof.
And the NYPD’s much-criticized enhanced public-housing security actually came at the request of residents seeking protection from predators who roam the halls and grounds. Similarly, crowd-control tactics are meant to prevent disorder from erupting. Even peaceful crowds can turn violent: Recall the riot after the 1983 Diana Ross concert in Central Park.
But Sandy’s onslaught put proactive law enforcement in a different light. New Yorkers were delighted to see police engaging in vigorous patrol, particularly in areas like the blacked-out housing projects. Even gas stations had to have officers stationed on-site as fights broke out on the long lines. When officers jumped in quickly to separate combatants, there were no complaints about excessive use of force. Everybody wanted the disorder stopped before someone got hurt.
Tragically, other recent incidents illustrate how dangerous the police job is. In one instance a Nassau County officer, patrolling near the New York City limits, made a routine traffic stop and was shot to death.
A few days later, an off-duty NYPD officer intervened in a holdup; shot and wounded by the perp, he still managed to capture the robber.
As Sandy demonstrated, public attitudes toward policing can change quickly. After the 9/11 attack, which left nearly 3,000 people dead in New York, the public didn’t want to hear any criticism of the heroes in blue. In the first decade of the new century, Commissioner Ray Kelly’s accomplishments in crime-fighting, anti-terrorism and community relations won considerable applause. Yet now those successful programs are under attack.