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De Blasio and the Cops: Where Do We Go From Here?

December 15, 2014

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch’s warning to Mayor Bill de Blasio to avoid future police funerals underscores the deteriorating relationship between the mayor and the police — one that may already be too strained to heal.

As PBA spokesman Al O’Leary put it, “The public underestimates how angry police officers are at the mayor.”

For NYC mayors and police commissioners, attending the funeral of a slain police officer is a political must. In 1998, then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir interrupted a European vacation with his wife to attend the funeral of police officer Gerard Carter — shot in the head by a 17-year-old paroled killer.

Lynch’s warning to de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — that their “attendance at the funeral of a fallen New York City police officer is an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice” — may have been done to shock. But it was also a cri de coeur — and one of betrayal.

Either way, it may have unintended consequences. For one thing, Lynch weakens his friend, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who in his second tour as commissioner has lost his swagger and is increasingly viewed as diminished.

“He has to seem neutral and must stand back,” a police source said of Bratton. “In any such confrontation between the mayor and the rank and file, he must back the mayor, although his sympathies may lie elsewhere.”

Both the mayor and the speaker termed Lynch’s warning “an inappropriate stunt” with “incendiary rhetoric.” Perhaps they are right.

On the other hand, how would you term de Blasio’s rhetoric? During his first year as mayor, his words and deeds concerning the police reflect the naïvete of former Mayor John Lindsay and the arrogance of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Lynch’s comments were set off by de Blasio’s remarks after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner. Referring to his 17-year-old biracial son, Dante, the mayor said, “We’ve had to literally train him as families have all over this city for decades in how to take special care in any encounter he had with the police officers who are there to protect him.” This included reaching for a cellphone, the mayor said, because “it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”

Many cops were furious at the mayor’s remarks and accused him of unfairly turning his comments into a racial issue.

“I taught my son to respect the police, to be polite, to do what they tell you,” said former police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. “How different is that from what de Blasio told his son? And my son is white.” He is now a cop in New Jersey.

The mayor’s comments were not made in a vacuum. Either uncaringly or inadvertently, he has infuriated the police by his words and deeds.

Since Garner’s death, he has embraced the Rev. Al Sharpton, the most polarizing figure in the city and the department’s bête noire since the days of Tawana Brawley and the Crown Heights riot. The mayor also settled the contentious Central Park Jogger rape case with no explanation as to why he awarded $40 million to five black youths who, while falsely imprisoned for the jogger’s rape, were in the park the same night assaulting others.

Over the past 20 years, the NYPD has been credited with dramatically reducing the city’s crime rate. After 9/11, officers were viewed as heroes.

But with the election of de Blasio and a progressive agenda that included recalibrating the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, a sea change has occurred among elected city officials. Many view the NYPD as the enemy.

Since Garner’s death, cops have been reviled by protesters. Trying to avoid mass arrests, Bratton has allowed them virtually free reign across the city. Whether this comes from his own calculus or de Blasio’s order is unclear.

Last week, Dep. Insp. Andrew Capul was cold-cocked by a gang banger with 13 prior arrests. Saturday night two lieutenants on or near the Brooklyn Bridge were assaulted after they tried to stop a man from throwing a garbage can at officers. The demonstrators forced the two lieutenants to the ground, punched and kicked them, tried to steal their radios and tear away their jackets, police said.

In another incident, a breakaway group of protesters on Madison Avenue near East 28th Street surrounded two traffic agents in their car and shattered their rear windshield.

The mayor seemed to have difficulty acknowledging the violence. His press office issued a statement, saying that, while most protesters acted peacefully, “a small group of protesters allegedly assaulted some members of the NYPD.” Allegedly?

So where do we go from here? What will the police do if the violence continues? What position will Bratton take? What position will de Blasio take?

On Sunday, Dennis Gonzalez, the president of the NYPD Hispanic Society, representing 9,500 police officers, called on the Society’s website for de Blasio and the City Council to “denounce these disgraceful protests.”

“Many elected officials are quick to speak out against police officers but now that we need them to calm our city, where is their press conference on the steps of City Hall? Their silence is deafening.” 

Go no farther than Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins, who recently posted warnings on his group’s website of a “credible threat to SHOOT an on duty police officer.” And adding: “This information has been verified. It appears this is an organized action. Understand there is an investigation and I am unable to provide further information at this time. PLEASE WEAR your VESTS and carry your firearm off-duty along with additional magazines. … Be assured this organization will do everything in its power and use every resource to protect each of you.”

According to NYPD spokesman Steve Davis, the supposed threat was received on Nov. 24 in Maryland with no reference to the NYPD. “Our intel did a preliminary threat assessment and found no reason to believe it was directed at NYPD or otherwise a credible direct threat. The group mentioned is not known to have any ties to N.Y.”

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