New York City Seeks Safer Streets Mayor Dinkins Wants More Police on Neighborhood Beats, and Citizens Volunteer for Patrols. BATTLING URBAN CRIME

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WHENEVER New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams extolled the virtues of freedom and democracy while visiting the Soviet Union in recent years, he would always get questions about urban fear of crime. "The Soviets would say, `But aren't many people prisoners of their apartments or communities?' " He says the question is becoming much more difficult to answer.

Those listening to his words - several hundred Manhattan residents gathered on 47th Street in the shadow of the United Nations for one of the city's several rallies at the Aug. 7 National Night Out Against Crime - understood perfectly.

A recent surge in random gun violence in New York City that has resulted in the deaths of five children and injuries to two others in recent weeks has heightened citizen concern and bolstered the city's determination to fight back. City Councilwoman Carol Greitzer spoke for many at the rally in insisting: "We're not going to let criminals take our streets and parks away from us."

New York City ranked a relatively low 13th on a per-capita basis among the 25 largest cities in the most recent Federal Bureau of Investigation national crime report. Yet in total crimes, New York continues to be No. 1. The number of murders, which reached 1,905 in 1989, is this year already more than one-third higher than the figure at this time last year. Just during the last week of July police received 1,745 reports of shots fired.

Of greatest concern to most New Yorkers is the random nature of much of the crime, its incursion into once-safe neighborhoods, and the casual use of guns to solve every dispute. Last week a fast-food worker in Brooklyn was shot dead when he asked a patron to pay for his chicken dinner. Many New Yorkers also feel that too many criminals get off too easily. "Certainty of punishment is much more important than its severity," says Dr. Mitchell Moss, director of New York University's Urban Research Center.

Mayor David Dinkins has now heard the grass-roots message loud and clear. He had pledged during his campaign to be "the toughest mayor on crime this city has ever seen." Yet for budget reasons he had delayed hiring new police recruits. However, in early August the mayor announced that money would be found in service cuts to hire an extra 1,058 officers next spring. The city police force numbered 31,700 in 1970 but is now less than 26,000.

Police Commissioner Lee Brown, Houston's former chief of police, has said the city needs 5,000 more police. …