Is the NYPD pulling back in fighting crime?

The question follows FBI Director James Comey's controversial assertion that increased scrutiny and criticism has led cops across the country to back off arresting criminals. The subject -- the so-called "Ferguson effect" -- is so sensitive that Comey was called to the White House last week to explain himself.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged that cops pulled back from fighting crime after the assassinations of Dets. Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December, but says officers are now aggressively pursuing criminals.

"We have been attempting to find the right balance, how much proactive enforcement is necessary to keep the crime numbers going down, and I think we have been achieving that," said Bratton, who noted that citywide overall crime has decreased in recent months, notwithstanding an 8 percent increase in homicides so far in 2015.

But others in the NYPD disagree, including two former high-ranking NYPD officials, both with relatives on the force.

"I can tell you it is a major concern. They are asking: How do we get cops to engage? How do we convince them we will support them?" said one of the officials, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the issue.

Quoting cops he spoke with at the funeral of Det. Randolph Holder last week, the official said, "They tell me that if they see some suspicious behavior in the street, they say to themselves: 'I am not engaging unless I am sure. I am not getting involved. I am not putting my career, my life and my family in jeopardy.' "

NYC has unique policing issues: 3 million stop-and-frisks in the previous administration, overwhelmingly black and Hispanic men; Mayor Bill de Blasio's election campaign critical of police tactics; and the City Council's call for decriminalizing public urination and subway fare- jumping.

"He [Comey] is 100 percent right," said the other former NYPD official, whose son is a cop. "You are going to get the police department that the community wants. If that means letting people get away with carrying guns, so be it.

"And why should cops do anything differently? Elected officials are vilifying cops -- until a cop gets shot," he added. "Why am I saying this to you? Because it needs to be said."