One Police Plaza

The New De Blasio?

February 8, 2016

It was the monthly news conference at Police Plaza, with the mayor, police commissioner and his top staff, announcing yet another low in crime statistics.

 But something was different at last week’s news conference. In two years of watching Mayor Bill de Blasio in office, this was the first time he seemed comfortable and at ease interacting with police officials.

He answered reporters’ questions about policing strategies without hesitation or trepidation. He jumped in and amplified NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s answer to a question. When Bratton conflated the names of Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce and Deputy Commissioner Dermot Shea, introducing Boyce as “Bob Shea,” de Blasio joked out loud, “You’ve turned them into one person.”

 Bratton has maintained that de Blasio has given the department “everything I’ve ever asked for,” including funding for improved technology and about 2,000 additional cops.

 “No question, he’s much more involved,” a former police official said of the mayor. “He speaks at every police academy graduation. I don’t think he ever had a personal relationship with a cop before becoming mayor, but now he has a half dozen cops surrounding him on his detail, so he has gotten to know police officers as people.”

Whether this newfound kinship is calculated or heartfelt is difficult to say.

 “I think he has changed,” said Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association and one of the mayor’s harshest critics. “He was pounding the cops, two of whom — Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos — were killed, I believe, as a result of anti-cop demonstrations that he did not discourage.

 “I had a 3½ hour meeting with him after Liu and Ramos were killed,” Mullins said. “The conversation was rough.”

Since then, Mullins said, “I have had numerous conversations with the mayor. I have bounced things off of him regarding communities of color. I do think he realizes now that he cannot operate the city on backs of the police and that lawlessness is going to be a problem.”

He is hardly “a closet law enforcement guy,” as a top Bratton aide said of him half in jest last week, Still, at the news conference de Blasio did say: “This administration does not tolerate violence. This administration does not tolerate disorder. The NYPD is out there protecting the public.”

 “A change has gradually occurred,” Mullins said. “I think he realizes he needs the cops, that maybe cops aren’t as bad as he thinks. Whether it is deep in his blood, I don’t think is the case. When push comes to shove, I don’t know where he stands. But I am willing to give him a chance.”

As the police department’s official unofficial historian, retired Sgt. Mike Bosak spent a decade researching the stories of 19th century police officers who died in the line of duty but who were never recognized by the department. After fighting three police administrations, his efforts were rewarded in 2005 when 77 officers he discovered, as well as another 23 found by the NYPD’s Personnel Bureau, were honored at a ceremony at Police Plaza (although then-Commissioner Ray Kelly took credit, referring to Bosak in a footnote.)

For the past 20 years, Bosak also has put out a daily newsletter, a compilation of NYPD and other law enforcement articles, interspersed with sometimes wry commentary. In certain circles the newsletter has become a part of city dialogue regarding the police. 

For the past month, however, it has not appeared. Computer problems, Bosak says. “I’m trying my best to get it worked out.”

Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt