With five months left in 2020, New York City has already passed last year’s shooting total, and might well end up doubling it. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea warns it will take time to reverse the crime spike, but that’s no guarantee the NYPD will do so.
The current mess was building for years, and merely redeploying officers can’t fix it. Above all else, Shea is going to have to level with the politicians about what they must do to make a turnaround even possible.
The commissioner can point to special circumstances: With grand juries not meeting in the lockdown, for example, 3,500 felony cases are stalled. That translates directly to more bad guys walking the streets.
The department is also losing roughly 1,000 cops a day from regular duties because they’re needed to handle the various anti-police protests. Thank Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to tolerate protests that violate the lockdown rules (even as he banned other First Amendment-protected activities).
For that matter, by agreeing to limit NYPD overtime along with his other efforts to appease the “defund the police” crowd, the mayor may be reducing it by another 1,000 cops a day.
De Blasio’s leadership has also left the NYPD under- or mis-trained in key regards: His first commissioner ended general training in handling riots and unruly protests, for example, so younger cops and newer commanders weren’t prepared for the chaos that followed the George Floyd murder.
For years now, nearly all training has emphasized “de-escalation” — when sometimes what’s needed is a firm response. That’s why officers last summer were failing to respond even when doused with water or ice.
That shift, along with the national rise in anti-cop sentiment cultivated by progressives like de Blasio, has made many streets actively hostile to cops. Older, wiser members of every community support their neighborhood cops, but any officer making an arrest or simply, say, ordering an illegal gathering to cease can find himself or herself confronting a screaming mob and dozens of cellphones filming everything.
In such an environment, what cop wouldn’t be hesitant?
‘Reformers” have complained about pro-active policing for decades. Now the city is seeing how things work without it: Cops aren’t doing their jobs — at least, not the way they used to. Detectives continue to make arrests as they solve crimes, but beat cops are hanging back, avoiding potential trouble rather than getting out there to prevent it.
In squad rooms across the city, the chatter is about “getting arrested for making an arrest”: Thanks to the new “diaphragm law,” cops on the street must worry about every physical encounter with any civilian, even (or maybe especially) a hardened perp who’s resisting arrest. When you fear that you can lose your job, your career and your pension for doing nothing wrong, of course you’re going to hang back.
One indispensable step in a crime turnaround is thus amending the law to, at the very least, add an “intent” requirement. Even all five city district attorneys saying they won’t prosecute cops who accidentally violate the law isn’t enough: With DAs now regularly winning office by promising to rein in the cops and go ever softer on criminals, they’ve largely lost officers’ trust, too.
Another obvious step is to bring back the anti-crime units, possibly under another name and with a different mix of personnel or with other changes. These were the last NYPD units aggressively working to get guns off the street; it’s plainly no coincidence that shootings started rising the instant these officers were reassigned.
No one believes it was Shea’s idea: His huge misgivings about the disbanding were obvious even as he was announcing it. And everyone reading between the lines concluded the mayor had given him no choice — undermining respect for the commissioner on top of everything else. Chief of Department Terence Monahan, meanwhile, has undermined himself — by kneeling with protesters as well as with ill-conceived comments like his “We can’t be afraid of doing what we do!” outburst at police brass during a recent CompStat meeting.
His sentiment was entirely correct. But he should aim his anger at the politicians.
At this point, rank-and-file distrust of the top command is a big problem in and of itself: Beat cops increasing feel like only their union truly has their back — which means they’ll pay more attention to what union leaders say than to the orders of their actual commanders.
And the Police Benevolent Association and other cop unions don’t really care if crime soars: Their mission is to protect their members, no one else. (Note the irony: A mayor who despises the police unions has managed to make them more powerful by undermining his own chosen command team.)
Undoing this internal NYPD division is a huge test for Shea and his team. Ideally, they’d be seen as scoring a clear “win” or three over the mayor’s anti-policing brain trust — which is another reason to restore the anti-crime units. It would surely help if de Blasio stopped bragging about how often he talks to the commissioner, which looks like humiliating micromanagement.
No, precinct chiefs can’t just order officers to start being aggressive again. “Reformers” have made it easy for cops to play it safe: State laws that aim to prevent commanders from “using quotas” — that is, to order a cop to perform so many pat-downs a week, or make so many arrests, or whatever — have made it near impossible to demand any level of job performance. Officers can safely behave like any other civil servant, doing as little as possible to earn their paycheck.
But you don’t become a cop unless you want to protect the public. What the NYPD needs, above all else, is a plan for how to credibly convince cops that it’s safe to do their jobs again.
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