PUBLIC perceptions are often more important than a mere recitation of ``facts,'' as many political and corporate leaders have had to learn over the years. This observation is prompted by the rising calls for more police officers in New York City. They come in the wake of a number of tragic acts of violence in New York during the past few months, including the subway-platform murder of a young tourist visiting with his family from Utah.
New York Mayor David Dinkins argues that the media have exaggerated the crime problem in New York. Yet, bowing to public pressures in his city of over 7 million people, the mayor recently proposed a sweeping $1.8 billion anticrime program that calls for putting 4,000 additional uniformed officers out on the streets (bringing to 6,000 the number of new police employees) and increasing the number of special transit and housing police. His plan provides new monies for the courts and jail system.
New Yorkers will have to endure tough financial sacrifices to pay for such a substantial addition to local law-enforcement departments. Not surprisingly, opposition is being heard about the costs. There are also, as the mayor has noted, deeper issues: The underlying factors that foster crime - poverty, drug-addiction, unemployment, the availability of illegal handguns, the rising tide of homeless people - will have to be resolved before crime rates show deep reductions.
Still, there is that matter of public perception and trust. New York City, for all its difficulties, remains the financial, corporate, and cultural capital of the United States. Manhattan's glorious skyline is a world tourist magnet. One cannot imagine the citizens of France, West Germany, or Britain allowing Paris, or Berlin, or London to be intimidated by criminals. That's why it is so important that people feel at ease about the Big Apple.
Putting a person with a badge on every corner will not by itself curb crime. But it is a starter - a way of reassuring a skittish public that government officials are listening and resolved to take positive action. Mayor Dinkins deserves kudos for proposing his new anticrime program - and his insistence that New York's best days are still ahead.