When it comes to great New York City rivalries, sports teams and politicians have nothing on the police and fire departments.
This has been going on forever, an endless struggle for turf, power, personnel and prestige. It's generally conducted out of the sight of average New Yorkers. But once in a while, we have to pay attention. Ideally, that time would come before a disaster strikes.
The issue right now is the 9-1-1 system. In 2009, Mayor Michael Bloomberg overhauled the system as part of his worthy effort to unify and coordinate the city's fractious emergency response system. Civilian dispatchers take all the 9-1-1 calls, recording the information from the caller, and then routing it to the police, firefighters or Emergency Medical Service.
City Hall says this has worked out well, reducing fire fatalities and lowering emergency response time.
The firefighters, who were on the losing end of the reorganization, claim that the new system is a disaster. The Bloomberg administration, they say, has been effectively cooking the books when it comes to figuring out response times, by failing to include the two minutes or so that it takes the 9-1-1 operators to process the calls.
"I could lower my response time too, if you don't count the first two minutes," fire union president Steve Cassidy told HuffPost.
So far, we're par for the course -- police win a turf battle, firefighters say the new system sucks. Mayor says everything's fine.
The difference is that this time there seems to be a way to tell who's right.
After that disastrous and humiliating Christmas storm in 2010 highlighted problems with the system, Bloomberg ordered a study by an outside consultant.
Reports say that the study found the new overhaul is full of holes, not to mention wasted money.
Bloomberg says the report just isn't ready to be made public. Or it might be wrong. It's just preliminary. And anyway, the 911 system is working great.
"While the conclusions may reveal significant shortcomings with our 911 system, the fact remains that it is a public record," says Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who's been leading the let's-open-the-envelope side. "The City commissioned this report 15 months ago -- and that is more than enough time to study such an urgently important issue."
Handling the police and firefighters is more difficult than dealing with the other areas of city government that also involve people who both serve the community and wield considerable political clout. We all know that these men and women face danger on our behalf. And every veteran mayor has put in time visiting wounded or injured men and women, or comforting their survivors. So the bond is tight.
Over his long mayoralty, Bloomberg has resolved a lot of the police-fire conflicts by simply letting the police lead the way. This was also true of the new 911 system, which has been years in the designing, and which has now cost the city somewhere between $1.5 and 2.3 billion, depending on who you're listening to.
Besides the question of response times, there are other signs of problems. The Times has reported that the fire and police personnel still use separate geographic information files, which could make them miss each other in places like an elevated highway. And then there's that possible $2.3 billion price tag.
This is maddening, and particularly worrisome since Bloomberg has shown so little interest in confronting Police Commissioner Ray Kelly over the police department's handling of the Occupy Wall Street protesters or its insistence on conducting its own little mini-FBI anti-terror undercover operations, infiltrating everything from Muslim-owned stores in New Jersey to mosques in Manhattan.
And $2.3 billion? For the rest of us citizens, this one is a no-brainer. Release the report. Now.
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