In the spring of 1990, New York was reeling from a crack-fueled cascade of soaring murders and plummeting morale, recalls the New York Daily News. The nation’s murder capital suffered a record 2,245 homicides by year’s end. Memories of that grim era resurfaced recently as the city’s murder rate jumped 22.5 percent in the first three months of 2010. Suddenly, there was open concern that the NYPD’s steadily shrinking headcount could bring back those bad old days.
In 1990, the NYPD numbered 26,000 – a number that increased dramatically under Mayor David Dinkins. By 2001, when Michael Bloomberg took office, department staffing hit 41,000. The current figure is about 35,000. Even Bloomberg suggested the diminished number of cops had contributed to the homicide uptick – which came on the heels of a record low number of murders in 2009. The mayor has promised not to lay off cops this year, but fears linger that attrition could continue to shrink the ranks. “There’s a limit to how much the cops can do with fewer police officers,” said police historian Tom Reppetto. In reality, there’s no comparison – anecdotally or statistically – between the present-day city and the New York of 20 years ago. Retired Detective Paul Calandra says that back then, “It was outrageous.  We were outmanned and outgunned. It was really like the wild, wild West.”