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De Blasio Hired More Police to Head Off Political Fallout, Sources Say

By  Murray Weiss Jeff Mays and Trevor Kapp | June 24, 2015 8:28am 

 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton were on scene after an explosion in East Harlem Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton were on scene after an explosion in East Harlem Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio's change of heart to allot funds to hire 1,300 more police officers was partially spurred by a fear he'd never make it to a second term if the public believed he wasn't doing enough to halt a steady uptick in crime citywide — including a troubling rise in murders and shootings, sources said.

De Blasio, who was elected on a wave of anti-stop-and-frisk sentiment, had repeatedly dismissed both the rising crime numbers and the call for more officers, telling reporters earlier this month that the uptick in crime would be easily "overcome." 

He argued that the city's force of 34,500 police officers had been freed up to focus on serious crime because the city reduced stop-and-frisk, shrank low-level marijuana arrests and added gunshot detection technology.

But with the number of shootings so far this year up more than 6 percent, and the number of murders jumping by double digits, the mayor found himself increasingly squeezed by the crime stats — as well as by pressure to hire more officers from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito.

“If there's a crime wave, and it is well known that he ignored the advice of his own police commissioner, the mayor will look very dumb indeed, and it will be impossible to reverse that image,” said a former city and state lawmaker who has worked closely with de Blasio.

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Sources close to the mayor say he gradually realized that the public was no longer as confident as he was that the Big Apple wasn't slipping into the "bad old days."

Mayor de Blasio confirmed Tuesday that not only had he agreed to the 1,000 officers Mark-Viverito and Bratton requested, but that he'd added an extra 300 more who would be solely dedicated to counter-terrorism.

"(T)his was a decision that we’ve talked about for quite a while," de Blasio said, adding that his mind was changed over the course of negotiations with Bratton and the City Council, who made more police officers their top priority.

"It's not like a light shone down from heaven," de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference Tuesday.

But sources behind the scenes said de Blasio may have also been channeling the memory of his mentor and former boss, former Mayor David Dinkins, who showed that the quickest way to becoming a one-term mayor is waiting too long to address a crime increase.

Dinkins' chances at a second term were crushed by the fallout from the Crown Heights riots and the fact that he waited until the end of his first — and only — term to hire more police at a time when there were more than 2,000 murders a year in New York, insiders say.

Even Bratton evoked Dinkins' name on Tuesday in his praise for Blasio's about-face.

"I would argue there’s never been a time other than maybe in David Dinkins' time, with 6,000 additional cops, where so much has been given to the police department, particularly in such a short period of time. It’s an extraordinary budget," Bratton said at One Police Plaza.

“You’ll get no complaints from me about this budget," Bratton added.

Those close to the mayor said the calls for more police were quietly growing even among de Blasio's formerly NYPD-wary political base.

“If violence is going up, the people who are most victimized are in minority communities and they are saying, ’I have two kids who come home because the sun is going down and gangs are coming out and taking over the parks, and there are shootings, and I want you to do something about this,” the source added.

Still, de Blasio's announcement came under fire from police union leaders, as well as police reform groups who decried it as "politics at its worst" and "perplexing" at best.

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, dismissed even the 1,300 officers a "drop in the bucket since we have lost nearly 7,000 since since 2001."

Groups such as Communities United for Police Reform and the Coalition to End Broken Windows say they don't see how the mayor's additional officers will fulfill his stated plan to "deepen neighborhood policing," where officers spend time in the community getting to know local residents, clergy and business owners better.

"Our communities are still being hurt by discriminatory and abusive policing, and the mayor and Council need to take steps to address this in a meaningful way," said Monifa Bandele, a spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform, in a statement.

Josmar Trujillo, an organizer for the Coalition to End Broken Windows, agreed, calling the decision "tone deaf."

"To have this happen in this liberal, progressive administration is the most tone deaf response they could have had," Trujillo said. "This is beyond disappointment. This is a national embarrassment."

Still, those close to de Blasio say he's preserved his chances at the national stage by ensuring that the city doesn't fall into a crime wave.

“You can’t have stories about crime going up every day and say, ‘No I am not going to give more officers to you,” a high-ranked law enforcement official said. "He was smart to give them 300 more than they wanted."