“Met in the lobby of Trump Tower,” a police commander later posted on Facebook. “Had to help this guy with a ride to the airport. Something about starting a new job. We messed up traffic a little bit, but he said he had an appointment in DC that was really important. And now, let’s see what comes next.”
There was nothing political about the posting or about the police escort. The NYPD would have done the same for Hillary Clinton had the election turned out the other way.
What would have also been the same was the city through which the president- elect was escorted. Crime-fighting strategies born three decades ago in the subway gloom of a much more violent New York have produced a municipal miracle where everyone, from billionaires to bust-outs, moves through those streets with a degree of safety that had once seemed impossible.
For all his talk about winning and greatness and making America not just great but safe again, Donald Trump had never demonstrated much interest in the working details of the transformation that took place all around his tower and extended to every neighborhood in the city of his birth and upbringing.
But Trump is hardly alone in his seeming lack of wonder amidst such a marvel. And he likely shares some misconceptions even with the succession of mayors who held office during the years that murders in New York plummeted from more than 2,000 a year to just over 300 and it became the safest big city in America.
Even now, almost no New Yorkers and none of the mayors who oversaw the transformation know the story in full, despite it having changed all their lives, black and blue included.
A full telling of this police tale like none other would have to note that when chanting “Black Lives Matter,” protestors are unknowingly voicing the very principle with which the NYPD began the transformation of New York. The accompanying, all-embracing principle that all lives matter is the source of America’s true greatness as well as the way to make America greater than ever.
As Trump began his presidency, the NYPD was tallying crime stats for January, which showed another drop in crime from already historic lows. The number of murders was down to 20 from 22 the previous January, the lowest total since the early 1960’s. Shootings were down to 58 from 59, a new low for modern times.
“We have now, when you look at New York City as a whole, we now have 24-hour periods where we do not record a shooting incident in New York City,” NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Dermot Shea said on Monday at a press conference announcing the latest numbers.
Shea added, “That kind of thinking was impossible in the not too distant past. This is the new normal. We want to build on it and we feel that we will build on it but there’s still plenty of work to do.”
And the continued decline had been accompanied by a drastic reduction in the number of stop and frisks, making New York not just the safest of big cities, but the fairest.
Trump, who wrongly said during the campaign that murders in New York were rising as the number of stops and frisks had declined, cited none of the historic stats from his hometown when he held a roundtable meeting with county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday morning. Such good news would not have fit with his continuing conjuring of chaos and carnage from which he will save us.
“The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right?” Trump said. “Did you know that? Forty-seven years. I used to use that—I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.”
As determined by the FBI, the murder rate 17 years ago was 7.9 per 100,000. The rate for 2015, the most recent number available, was 3.9 per 100,000.
Trump kept to his message while veering closer to the actual facts when he addressed a joint gathering of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association and Major Cities Chiefs Association Wednesday. He correctly stated that the murder rate has risen in a number of large cities in the past two years.
“In many of our biggest cities, 2016 brought an increase in the number of homicides, rapes, assaults and shootings,” he said. “In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone, and the rate so far this year has been even higher. What is going on in Chicago?”
He made no mention of the city where his family continues to reside, the city where there were 1,117 murders 47 years ago, rising to 2,262 in 1990 before the municipal miracle took hold, down to 330 in 2016. The question he should have also asked—a question that might well point to possible remedies for Chicago and elsewhere—was this:
“What is going on in New York?”
There was a New York delegation headed by NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill present at the conference that no doubt would have been happy to brief our new president. Trump was already voicing the same imperative that had powered the New York miracle.
“We cannot allow this to continue,” Trump said. “We’ve allowed too many young lives to be claimed—and you see that, you see that all over—claimed by gangs, and too many neighborhoods to be crippled by violence and fear…This violence must end, and we must all work together to end it.”
He was talking about all of America’s cities.
“This is a national tragedy, and it requires national action…Whether a child lives in Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, or anywhere in our country, he or she has the right to grow up in safety and in peace. No one in America should be punished because of the city where he or she is born. Every child in America should be able to play outside without fear, walk home without danger, and attend a school without being worried about drugs or gangs or violence.”
But again there was no mention of New York, which can offer so many answers.
On Thursday, immediately following the Oval Office swearing-in of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump signed three executive orders regarding public safety. One concerned criminal cartels, another violence against law enforcement officers.
A third called was titled, “TASK FORCE ON CRIME REDUCTION AND PUBLIC SAFETY.” It calls for the attorney general to form a task force “to exchange information and ideas among its members that will be useful in developing strategies to reduce crime, including, in particular, illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime” and “based on that exchange of information and ideas, develop strategies to reduce crime.”
The order constitutes a test for Sessions and therefore Trump. They must set politics aside just as the NYPD does when it gives its all to ensure the safety of the president, whomever that might be. Any honest effort to ensure the safety of the public must prominently include what the NYPD has proven to be so effective in reducing crime.
Failure to listen and learn from the NYPD would constitute a far more grievous failing than simply not wanting to conflict with a campaign message or to be associated in any way with Bill de Blasio, the latest New York mayor claiming credit for what the cops have accomplished over a quarter century.
But, just as Trump would never want to erect a tower to which he could not affix his name, he may not be interested in crime-fighting strategies to which he cannot lay claim.
With so many lives at stake, that in itself would be a crime.