By Anthony M. Destefano
NEW YORK CITY — NYPD officials are considering a merger of the department's borough task forces as a way of freeing up more cops for anti-crime duties at a time when shootings continue to climb in the city, said a highly ranked law enforcement official briefed on the matter.
The potential merger of the five task forces, currently composed of several hundred officers citywide, into a single unit is one of several ideas being mulled over in Commissioner William Bratton's plan to re-engineer the NYPD, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The task forces were originally set up years ago to handle large crowds and disturbances.
Another possible move would be to reassign officers in specialized units to street enforcement duties when needed, the official said.
The official stressed that no final decision has been made on a possible task force merger or reassignment of cops from specialized units.
What's certain is that some 200 cops currently handling desk jobs will be replaced by an equal number of civilians whose hiring is called for in last week's city budget deal, the official said. There are about 35,000 officers in the NYPD, down from a peak of 41,000 in September 2001.
"We are looking at a number of options for augmenting our patrol units," said NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis Monday. He didn't want to comment on specifics.
Faced with a steady 11.2 percent rise in shootings since April and a past week that saw 11 homicides — among the largest increases so far this year — Bratton has acknowledged that he plans to look at how cops are used so that he has the flexibility to deploy them to crime hot spots. While homicides have dipped 12.8 percent this year to 134 compared to 152 in 2013, shootings continue to increase and now stand at 495 compared to 445 a year ago, according to NYPD statistics. There have been 576 shooting victims compared to 515 a year ago, the data showed.
Earlier in the year, the City Council called for the hiring of 1,000 cops to handle the increase in shootings, particularly in public housing areas. Bratton didn't reject the idea but said he needed new officers immediately and didn't want to wait the 14 months it would take for the recruits to be hired and go through the police academy. The city instead approved hiring the 200 civilian employees to free up cops for police work.
"It is a good reallocation of resources," said retired NYPD detective supervisor Joseph Giacalone, about the possible task force merger.
Giacalone said that the task force concept began after the Crown Heights riot of 1991 as a way of marshaling large numbers of officers to deal with public disturbances. As time passed, the need for such units abated and unifying the borough commands into one operation wouldn't cost the NYPD any significant amount of money, explained Giacalone.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
A spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said he wasn't aware Monday of the possible merger of the task forces.
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