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Revising the numbers

November 18, 2005

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proudest boast during his successful mayoral campaign turns out to be wrong.

His claim – that New York is the nation’s safest large city – is based on outdated FBI statistics. Even in its own crime report, the Bureau acknowledges the data is misleading.

Bloomberg’s boast was based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2004. But that report states the crime index Bloomberg used was discontinued in June 2004, for lack of relevance. Or, as the report says, “In recent years the crime index …has not been a true indicator of the degree of criminality.”

The old crime index gave equal weight to such non-violent crimes as burglary or larceny as to murder, assault, rape and robbery. The FBI report says that the non-violent category of larceny – theft – makes up 59.4 per cent of all reported crime and “the sheer volume of those offenses overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses” such as rape and murder.

While Bloomberg totaled all these crimes together, a more accurate gauge of safety in any city is purely violent crime, says an FBI official, who pointed out which large American cities are by this measure safer than New York.

In fact, the total of violent crimes – which includes homicide, assault, non-negligent manslaughter, rape and robbery – shows that New York comes out not first but fourth, which still isn’t bad.

San Diego, with a population of 1,281,366, is the nation’s safest largest city, with 6,774 violent crimes, including 62 murders, giving it a rate of 529 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

San Antonio – population 1,235,128 – is second with 7,846 violent crimes, including 94 murders, putting its rate at 635 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

Phoenix – population 1,428,973 – had 9,465 violent crimes, including 202 murders, making its rate 662 violent crimes per 100,000 population..

New York – population 8,101,321 – had 55,688 violent crimes, including 570 murders, giving it a rate of 687 per 100,000 population.

Mayor Bloomberg’s spokesman Bob Lawson says, ”According to the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report for 2004, New York City remains the safest big city in America in overall crime.”

Rewriting history. For the past decade, Mike Bosak, a retired sergeant and amateur historian, has dedicated himself to researching the stories of 19th century police officers who died in the line of duty but were never recognized.

On Tuesday, the police department honored 77 police officers he discovered, together with another 23 the department’s Personnel Bureau found. The department invited the officers’ families to a ceremony where their names were added to the Wall of Honor at One Police Plaza.

Bosak also attended but was barely mentioned. In a move that many in law enforcement say is emblematic of the way Police Commissioner Ray Kelly operates, Bosak was robbed of his glory.

Kelly – with Mayor Bloomberg at his side – instead took most of the credit. He called the ceremony the culmination of a process begun in 1993, which happened to be his first full year as police commissioner under David Dinkins.

A mayoral press release, which included the name of Kelly’s Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, said the officers’ names had been added to the wall “after a long and painstaking process” and that “members of the department’s Personnel bureau examined countless documents and archival newspaper records to ascertain who may have died in the line of duty and the details surrounding their deaths.”

In fact, Bosak did most of the work by himself. He persevered through three police administrations, urging each to honor the forgotten officers. In 1996, his research completed, he contacted then Chief of Personnel Mike Markman, whose attitude, as expressed to this reporter, was: “What’s all this concern for the 19th century? We have more urgent problems.”

For the next four years under Police Commissioner Howard Safir, the project languished. In 2000, Safir’s successor, Bernard Kerik, scheduled a ceremony to honor Bosak’s newly discovered heroes. Then, 9/11 occurred and the wall of honor was forgotten.

Officials from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, who backed Bosak’s quest from the outset, say Kelly was initially lukewarm to the project. “Unless Kelly was regarded as the prime mover, it wasn’t going to happen,” said PBA trustee Mike Morgillo, who attended the ceremony with Bosak.

That, says Morgillo, is why Kelly appointed his own committee, which added the 23 other names.

Bernie Kerik, lost. First, he was The Lost Son, the title of Bernie’s autobiography about his mother, the prostitute. Then, there was his lost daughter, the child out of wedlock in Korea he hadn’t seen in two decades. There was also the lost wife, whom he failed to mention when nominated as Director of Homeland Security.

Now, with charges by New Jersey gaming officials that an alleged mob-connected contractor paid for nearly $200, 000 of renovations for Bernie’s Riverdale apartment, Bernie has apparently lost his memory.

His attorney, Joe Tacopina, says Bernie had no idea the renovations were so costly. When questioned by the gaming commission, Bernie cited the Fifth amendment against self-incrimination nine times. Tacopina says he advised Bernie to say nothing, explaining that if he forgot something while testifying, his lost memory could bring perjury charges.

Henceforth, this column will refer to Kerik, on occasion lauded by Your Humble Servant, as Bernie the Fifth.

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Copyright © 2005 Leonard Levitt