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The NYPD: You've Come a Long Way, Baby

June 21, 2016

The NYPD is hardly an avatar of social change.

But reflecting the changing attitudes throughout much of the country regarding homosexuality, the department celebrated its LGBT officers during an “Out and Proud” ceremony that occurred, coincidentally, just days after the mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, gay club.

Speaking to an audience at Police Plaza of mostly members of the Gay Officers Action League, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is more forward thinking than most police commissioners, shared that his sister is gay.

Det. Mike DeBonis of the department’s Public Information Office said with amazement, if not pride, “We now have transgender officers.”

He pointed to three women wearing long gowns and makeup, and said: “That’s the emperor and empress from the Imperial Court with other drag queens.” He explained that the Imperial Court of New York is one of the oldest community service organizations serving the LGBT community.

Holding this event is evidence that the NYPD has come a long way. Not until 1972, with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, were women fully integrated into the department. Before then, they had served mostly as “matrons,” guarding female prisoners. Even when females began serving on patrol, there was opposition. Male officers felt they would jeopardize their lives. Wives protested at police headquarters.

“Bureaucratic change takes a long time but it has happened.” said Brian Downey, the president of GOAL, which was founded in 1982, and now numbers 2,000 members. How many GOAL officers belong to the NYPD is unknown as the organization includes people from other law enforcement agencies.

“We have officers who have transitioned on the job,” Downey said. “There are transgender cops that have not had one instance of discrimination or one problem.” 

But, he acknowledged, there’s “still a disconnect. We still have mistrust. But this is not the NYPD of the 1960s.” 

Two days later, the city renamed the intersection of two streets in the West Village for GOAL’s founder, Sgt. Charles Cochran. Thirty-five years ago, Cochran became the first NYPD officer to come out as gay when he testified before a contentious City Council hearing on a gay rights bill in 1981.

The renaming prompted an email from former Deputy Commissioner Michael Julian about Cochran. “I was his partner in the 71 Pct. from 1972-73,” Julian wrote. “Not only did Charlie not march to the drums of the corrupt and brutal cops, he stood proudly against them.

“Where many cops knew the law for how they could skirt it, Charlie knew the law and policies better than anyone, and followed them.

“Where many cops knew the law for how they could skirt it, Charlie knew the law and policies better than anyone, and followed them.

“Here is the story of his uncommon courage: The C.O., Deputy Inspector Charles Kelly, wanted to root out corruption and excessive force. But the cops struck back. One hundred of them gathered one evening to vote on a job action that would bring Kelly to his knees.

“The beers went round, the speakers rallied the troops, and they were ready to vote for no activity until the commander backed off.

“Charlie then asked to speak. He explained that he could not go along with a job action. If all Kelly wanted was to stop the corruption and brutality, then Charlie Cochrane supported the commander. He asked for the 90% of the cops in the room who were not corrupt to stand with him. There was no response from the cops — and there was no job action.” 

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, some said McCarthy’s career was over — that he was toxic and could never become an urban police chief again.

The release of hundreds of his city emails, following a public records request, may reverse that perception.

Emanuel had forced McCarthy out after the release of a dash-cam video showed a white cop shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times as the 17-year-old appeared to walk away from him. Many suspected the mayor had suppressed the video, fearing its release might cost him re-election.

Because of the furor over police departments’ relationships with black communities across the country, McCarthy’s dismissal received national attention. That old Chicago hand, President Barack Obama —for whom Emanuel had served as White House chief of staff — weighed in, appearing to support the mayor.

OK, it’s true that McCarthy, egged on by his wife, Gina, has been a hothead. In 2005, as an NYPD deputy commissioner, he was arrested, handcuffed and disarmed by a Palisades Parkway cop after Garry protested a parking ticket issued to his daughter. When Gina grabbed Garry’s gun back from the Palisades officer, she, too, was arrested.

But McCarthy was also regarded in the NYPD as a pro — an aggressive, intelligent and community-minded officer — qualities he brought to Chicago, as reflected in his emails from top Chicago commanders.

Chicago First Deputy Supt. John J. Escalante, who would become interim superintendent after McCarthy’s ouster, wrote to McCarthy: “The last four-plus years has [sic] been a pleasure and we are all grateful this department was turned around in the right direction under a real Policeman. A street cop.”

Cmdr. Barbara West, who McCarthy had promoted to command two districts on the Chicago’s West Side, thanked him for “all of the things you taught me about leadership.”

In an email to his new wife, Kristin Barnette, who McCarthy married in 2014, he referred to his termination letter and noted of Mayor Emanuel, “He didn’t even have the balls to sign it himself.”

With the release of those emails, it may turn out that it’s not McCarthy’s career that is over, but Emanuel’s.

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