By Matthew Chayes Newsday
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s acting attorney general credited the NYPD for the city’s record-low crime rate and called it “perhaps the greatest police department on Earth” in a speech Wednesday at a Manhattan anti-terrorism outpost.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker described the falling crime rate, including a drop from 2,245 murders in 1990 to 292 last year, as “staggering” as he spoke inside the Chelsea command center, home to country’s largest Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“You’ve been able to start a virtuous cycle of safety, prosperity — which follows more safety,” Whitaker said, speaking to a gathering of cops, prosecutors, agents and other officials.
Trump, who on Nov. 7 elevated Whitaker after ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has credited the NYPD’s controversial and stop, question and frisk policy for the drop in crime.
Critics of the policy, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have questioned its effectiveness in crime fighting, noting that all categories of major crime have continued to decline, even as the NYPD significantly curbed the practice over issues of fairness, tactics and constitutionality.
In a speech on Long Island in 2017, Trump ridiculed de Blasio as “a pathetic mayor” who won’t let the police “do their job.”
Whitaker, in his 14-minute speech Wednesday, cited a recent October weekend in the city in which “there were zero murders or shootings for the first time in 25 years.”
Later in his remarks, he incorrectly said that convicted terrorist Ahmad Rahimi, who in 2016 detonated bombs in the city and New Jersey, had two co-conspirators abroad.
Three hours after Whitaker’s speech, the U.S. Justice Department issued a correction acknowledging that the remarks “inadvertently” included the erroneous information, and “there is no extradition relating to the Chelsea bomber case.”
Rahimi was sentenced in February to life imprisonment. There were no co-conspirators.
The command center where the acting attorney general spoke houses members of the NYPD, United States Secret Service and prosecutors in a joint effort to prevent and combat attacks.
Since his appointment, Whitaker has come under fire from Democrats over his echoing of Trump’s complaints of the special counsel’s probe into Russian election interference. Sessions had recused himself; Whitaker is now in charge of it. There is debate among legal scholars over the constitutionality of the appointment, because Whitaker hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate.