“Blackout, heat wave, .44-caliber homicide,” is the opening line of Billy Joel’s angst-driven rock classic “Close to the Borderline.” He was talking about the summer of ’77 in New York: Son of Sam, the Bronx ablaze and all that. Not the best of times (despite “Annie Hall”). And 35 years later, it’s starting to seem like the bad old days all over again.
Violent crime is up in many areas, including the roughest sections of Queens. And though every murder and every attempt is dreadful, some recent cases seem especially horrifying. Three men killed in Springfield Gardens, with 63 shots fired, most if not all apparently from an AK-47 submachine gun —yes, the old favorite of the Russian military and terrorists everywhere. An MTA cop stabbed in the eye by a lunatic at the Jamaica LIRR station. An executive killed in her Astoria apartment, allegedly by her live-in boyfriend, an attorney.
No amount of cops on the street, no law however strict, can deter all crime. And it may be that the record low level of violence the city has achieved simply can’t last forever. But we must do all we can to make it last.
That means increasing the police force, which has dropped from its high of 41,000 in the Giuliani administration to about 34,500 now. And of course those officers are doing much more, i.e., preventing terror attacks, than they were before. While we can’t blow the budget, policing the streets is the city’s first obligation. Cuts must be made elsewhere to hire more cops.
We should also reconsider the so-called reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws that were made in 2009, which more and more officials now agree resulted in freeing too many hardened criminals. Among those who have said so in recent days are Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. of Astoria, the public safety chairman.
And it’s time for the ivory tower types to stop beating up the NYPD over stop and frisk. Patting down suspicious people is nothing new. And it happens more in minority areas because fully 90 percent of both killers and victims are minorities. As state Sen. Malcolm Smith of Jamaica said after the stabbing, stop and frisk, when done respectfully, is necessary to keep the city safe.
So are more cops and more prison time for criminals. Let’s keep our priorities straight.