NEW YORK -- Hoping to shift the narrative from a stormy December of police reform protests and the murder of two officers, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Monday touted the city's record low crime rates for 2014.
Flanked by New York police Commissioner William Bratton at a police headquarters press conference, de Blasio said the decreases in both murders and stop-and-frisk encounters last year proved that "it was possible all along to create a safer city and a fairer city." The mayor's remarks came a day after the second funeral for the officers killed in a Dec. 20 ambush.
Murders dropped 0.9 percent from 2013 to 2014, to a total of 332, according to the New York Police Department. That's the lowest number since at least 1963, based on NYPD figures. Major crimes, a category that also includes rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary and larceny, were down 4.6 percent. At the same time, police street stops were down 75 percent. Low-level marijuana arrests fell 10 percent year over year, with a particular acceleration in the decline after a November policy change.
De Blasio said the numbers were a cause for some celebration in the wake of the funerals for officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who had been "part of that success." But he also acknowledged the tense political moment at which the crime totals were being announced.
Hundreds of officers attending the funerals of Liu and Ramos turned their backs on the mayor, as part of an argument that he has aligned himself too closely with the protesters calling for police reforms. Pat Lynch, president of the city's largest police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the mayor had blood on his hands.
Protesters in the city have been in no mood for celebration either in the wake of Staten Island resident Eric Garner's death at the hands of police and the subsequent failure of a grand jury to indict anyone. They have taken to the streets in the thousands to call for reform at the NYPD.
But de Blasio argued that 2014 would ultimately be remembered not for the murders of the officers or the street demonstrations, but for the fact that crime could be brought down even as stop-and-frisks and arrests for low-level marijuana offenses decreased.
"The people want us all to come together. The people believe that we can do together," said the mayor. "And that positive vision will prevail over the negative visions where the loudest voices of disunity and discord dominate the news cycle."
Bratton, meanwhile, lashed out at the officers who had turned their backs on the mayor the day before. Echoing comments he had made in a memo before the Liu funeral, he said those officers had "embarrassed themselves" by introducing politics into a memorial service. He said the protest was "essentially a labor action" and implied that it was motivated at least in part by the police unions' desire to reach new labor contracts with the city.
"The selfishness of that action, the selfishness of it. A funeral is not the place for that," said Bratton. "I feel very strongly about this."
A spokesman for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bratton said the department was "very closely" watching a recent sharp drop in summonses issued and low-level arrests made -- an apparent protest by rank-and-file police officers angry at the mayor. That decrease continued for a second week, new numbers showed. Police union leaders have denied organizing it.
The police commissioner said he was not ready to take action yet but had discussed the apparent work stoppage in an hours-long meeting with top commanders Monday morning.
Liberal critics have suggested that the work stoppage proves that a major city can stay safe even in the absence of "broken windows" policing, but Bratton curtly rejected that argument.
"I was here in 1994," said Bratton, referring to the first year of his first term as police commissioner. At the time, crime rates were dropping but still much higher than today, and Bratton implemented the controversial policing theory he is closely associated with. "We're not going back to that period of time. Never again."