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NYC's Shea Laments 'Vicious Circle' of Criminal Justice Reformers

Recent debates on criminal justice have been characterized by "magical thinking, a wishful insistence that we can have public safety without police," departing New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea writes in the New York Daily News. "Budgets have been slashed. Resignations and retirements have further reduced police manpower. Morale is in a tailspin, which makes police recruitment — particularly among young Black men — especially challenging. The difficulties of effective policing are increasing while the effects of successful policing are being systematically undermined. It’s a vicious circle." Shea recalled that when he became an officer 30 years ago, the city had 2,000 homicides that year, some 5,000 shootings and 100,000 robberies in a year. By 2019, there were only 319 murders, 922 shootings, and 13,369 robberies.


"Since 2014, our gains in public safety came as we drastically curtailed our enforcement efforts, refocusing instead on precision policing," Shea writes. "Because most of our serious crime is committed by a relatively small number of people, targeting patterns, recidivists and networks such as gangs can deliver better results than an expansive and punitive enforcement policy. " In the 1990s, police commissioners never bragged about how few arrests they were making. Shea says, "But I did and I still do: In 2019, we made 44 percent fewer arrests than we had five years before. The city was even safer." Shea criticizes New York state's bail reform of 2020, complaining that "A defendant’s history of violence — the best predictor of future violence — could not be considered by a judge." He contends that other states have "allowed for public safety concerns to be evaluated in addition to a defendant’s risk of flight" when enacting bail reforms. On Jan. 1, Keechant Sewell will be sworn in as police commissioner under new Mayor Eric Adams.