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In subways, pair cops with social workers

Straphangers pack into a crowded car in the

Straphangers pack into a crowded car in the Union Square subway station in Manhattan on March 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is rolling in the right direction as he pushes his crackdown on subway peddling, panhandling, preaching, singing, dancing and anything else that ratchets up rider discomfort from merely awful to arrrrggggh!

But it's not enough just to make arrests, or to shoo the usual suspects off the trains and out of the stations.

Bratton should consider the advice of criminologist George Kelling -- his friend and an NYPD consultant -- and send out social workers to accompany officers as they patrol one of the largest subway systems in the world.

Kelling is a developer of the "broken windows theory," which holds that when minor laws are ignored, criminals will get increasingly bolder and serious crime will ultimately flourish.

Bratton has long been a broken windows believer -- but now may be the time to take it to the next level.

Why? Several reasons:

Police have often faced pushback from advocates for poor people who view tough quality-of-life enforcement as a way to harass society's disenfranchised. Sending out social workers to patrol with subway cops would be a decisive way to dispel that misguided notion.

A dual beat would make life better for customers in a century-old, often beleaguered, frequently unfriendly rail system that struggles to provide 5.3 million rides a day.

More people who need social services would get them. If some spiel artists working the trains are criminals, many others are suffering from mental illness, physical infirmity, or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

So why shouldn't the NYPD try harder to point those who need help to the city's social services network -- which could offer health care, detox services, mental health treatment and employment counseling?

Few cops will ever be mistaken for social workers, and it's unfair to expect them to do that job. The NYPD is doing what it does best now; panhandling arrests on the subways have jumped by 260 percent so far this year.

But the city might be able to do a better job yet.


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