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Head of New York City Police Union Notoriously Hostile to Reform

Opposition against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio by police officers is still high after the deaths of two New York Police Department officers on Dec. 20. In fact, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton believed tensions were as high as in the 1970s, when the crime rate soared along with the deaths of police officers.

The night officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later committed suicide, de Blasio spoke at Woodhull Hospital where NYPD cops turned their backs to him before he spoke. It symbolized the divide between the NYPD and de Blasio.

Indeed, the decision of Patrick J. Lynch, the head of the police union in NYC, to blame protesters for having blood on their hands shows the response of the NYPD in general. De Blasio as well was blamed for having blood on his hands too because he did not stand with the NYPD in response to the protests against police brutality when they first began.

Lynch was criticized for his inflammatory comments; in fact, he could be described as “completely nuts” as journalist J.K. Trotter writes.

Still, Lynch’s history, and the history of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, is one where they go against the status quo when it is not in their favor.

In March 2012, for example, Lynch criticized a plan to provide more power to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is not very effective to begin with, in holding officers accountable. He said the CCRB had a “predisposition that police officers are always wrong.”

Offering such powers to the CCRB was also offered in 2010 by then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Lynch criticized it as “stunt” to “placate the usual police critics.”

But even in terms of getting it wrong, Lynch disregards the facts and prefers to side with officers. For instance, on Feb. 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, was shot 41 times after four officers assumed he had a gun. He held a wallet. The officers were found not guilty.

At the time, Lynch condemned the decision of the ACLU in running a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing the four officers for using excessive force. Moreover, Lynch believed the four officers would be acquitted in a fair trial. Lynch said, after the trial finished, the not guilty verdict was what he expected and he did not believe race was a factor.

Kenneth Boss, one of the four involved in the murder of Diallo, had his gun revoked after the shooting, but it was reinstated in 2012. Lynch called the decision “appropriate and long overdue.”

With a shooting like Diallo, and the countless others killed by officers, there would be a need to address the “bad cops.” Indeed, Police Commissioner William Bratton pledged in October to remove officers who were “poisoning the well.” Lynch’s response was more of cautious than siding with Bratton:

Police officers are entitled, like anyone else, to due process.  It is our job to ensure that every officer who is accused has the same opportunity to defend him or herself as any other American.  We have defended police officers from rush to judgments in the past, we are defending them today and we will continue to defend them long into the future.

Even when reforms are brought up that are not necessarily harmful for the NYPD, the PBA is hostile to it. In 2011, some NYPD officers insulted people at the West Indian Parade in New York City online with comments such as “savages” and “filth.” There was outrage after it was discovered.

A suggestion was brought up in response to make any recruit joining the NYPD to live in the five boroughs, yet Lynch did not believe it was fair as some officers held other jobs to live in NYC. This despite salaries rising 55 percent under his tenure, according to a recent article in Bloomberg.

A few months ago, Lynch wanted evidence first before placing body cameras on cops, despite the quote appearing in an article where there was evidence of it working. Last year, Lynch released a statement to the press elaborating more on his position on body cameras:

Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, asps, radio, handcuffs and the like.  Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it.

Stop-and-frisk is another issue where Lynch used a red herring to avoid discussion of it and focus on funding of the NYPD:

Quotas for police activities like summonses and stop, question and frisks are a direct result of inadequate funding of the NYPD and understaffing in local precincts.  The Mayor, City Council and agency head should properly fund the NYPD and allow police officers to exercise their professional discretion and judgment, just as they had prior to the dramatic increase in stops caused by quotas.

Moreover, Lynch believed the statistics did not really matter that much, despite nine in 10 of those stopped to be innocent.

Chokeholds, the maneuver used in the murder of Eric Garner, were reportedly increasing over the past year by the CCRB. Lynch dismissed it as “totally meaningless.”

It is not as if Lynch is totally opposed to reforms. He agreed of placing recruits behind desks before going out in the street. But these are not major reforms that change the institution known as the New York Police Department. The PBA acts as a powerful figure in promoting the interests of officers and it is effective. Indeed, a profile in Newsweek last October points this out:

The PBA’s communications director, Al O’Leary, believes Lynch is the most powerful police union chief in the world: His union has twice as many members as Chicago does police officers. Lynch’s loudest critics—for example, a city councilman who had once been a Black Panther and deemed the PBA the “Police Brutality Association” after the Stansbury shooting—would be dismayed to know how little impact they have on his ironclad convictions.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, said he would not have a problem with police officers had he been in de Blasio’s position. However, it should be noted the PBA was also hostile to Giuliani in the late 1990s. In 2007, as Giuliani prepared his failed candidacy for the Republican Party, Lynch criticized him as someone who holds “no real credentials as a terrorism fighter.”

It is difficult to gauge what the sense is within the NYPD. Some officers may believe Lynch is just exaggerating as always to “blow things up.” Others, as noted on police forums where ignorance often springs up, may believe he is an active voice just like Lynch says he is.

These examples provide an image of an institution operating in NYC as its own force. Mayors may come and go, but Lynch will still be around gaining influence and promoting his agenda. Anyone in Lynch’s position can do that.

To provide an example, a few years after a massive police demonstration against former Mayor David Dinkins in 1992, the PBA was blamed for aggressively interfering with an investigation on corrupt cops in the NYPD:

The officials also said that, in one precinct, union representatives attempted to plant newspaper articles about sting operations, which the department calls integrity tests, as a warning to all officers.

What is tragic in this case is how Lynch, as noted in the Newsweek article, prefers politics over policing. Communities, thereby, are robbed of any sense of justice all because the police union plays politics. Such politics can include denying the death of an unarmed civilian and blaming him for his problems.

When even black police offers acknowledged the problem of discrimination when not in uniform, it is time to re-evaluate the entire apparatus. But, as writer Corey Robin notes, “the entire New York City establishment — not just de Blasio, but political, cultural, and economic elites — is terrified (or in support) of the cops.”

But one revealing thing on how de Blasio is handling the protesters and cops is what he said ahead of the funeral of officer Rafael Ramos. He explicitly told protesters to temporarily halt demonstrations until the funerals were finished.

Meanwhile, the day of the funeral, hundreds of police officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke. Plus a number of former and current officers paid money to fly a banner over the Hudson River provoking de Blasio the day before the funeral. It was the deputy press secretary that released a statement.

Lynch is facing an election next year for his fifth term as head of the PBA and will run unopposed. Officers currently have no contract and it is a major issue within the police union. Bratton pledged earlier this year to work with the PBA, but it seems the PBA is the one in control.

However, the most important issue in New York City is police brutality. It is why demonstrators are constantly in the streets demanding accountability and justice. Should the police union continue to dictate what can and cannot be allowed, then there will be no justice or peace.

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.

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