With Pat Lynch diminished, Broken Windows supporters to run roughshod over NYPD

After the latest Quinnipiac University Poll showed that Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch had earned the scorn of voters following a months-long public tussle with Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), Mr. Lynch retreated from his demand of an apology from Mayor de Balsio.

The public tussle, simmering since the 2013 mayoral campaign, spilled out into the open after Mr. Lynch denied that Eric Garner died as a result of a chokehold, in spite of video evidence to the contrary, and intensified after Mayor de Blasio said that he had to warn his own son, Dante, about the controversial policing tactics that City Hall compels the New York Police Department to prosecute. 

Prior to Mr. Lynch's retreat, he had reportedly ordered a slowdown in the NYPD's prosecution of the neoconservative and discriminatory "Broken Windows" approach to policing, the end of which some grassroots police reform activists have demanded.

The slowdown exposed that the relentless making of arrests and the issuance of summonses by the NYPD may have been being driven by long-suspected quotas.

Furthermore, the slowdown revealed that the big business community were supportive of Broken Windows policing and of Commissioner Bratton, indicating that a very influential pool of big money donors were exerting political influence over City Hall and One Police Plaza in direct opposition to grassroots police reform activists' attempts at a fundamental overhaul of NYPD.

Since Mr. Lynch caved in to both peer pressure and the latest opinion poll, the NYPD will never receive an apology from Mayor de Blasio over his misplaced blame game over the Broken Windows homicide of Mr. Garner, and the brutality and deaths of still yet others.

Mr. Lynch's backpedaling also represents a setback to police reform efforts.  The slowdown revealed that some police officers were resentful of their constant harassment of minority communities called for by Broken Windows tactics (as expressed, for example, at the 7:30 mark of this segment of The Brian Lehrer Show), temporarily creating a discussion in mainstream media that validated concerns raised by grassroots police reform activists, namely, that Broken Windows policing was at the very nexus of the breakdown in relationship between police and community. 

The long string of NYPD officer-involved fatalities has made clear that the NYPD has lacked any real mechanism to discipline officers for their roles in causing the deaths of people taken or being taken into police custody.  The lack of a disciplinary system was partly affirmed by a special report by the New York City Department of Investigation that showed that, at least in respect of a small subset of substantiated chokehold cases, the NYPD rejected the majority of disciplinary recommendations made by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a body that has a poor record of substantiating cases of police misconduct.

Mr. Lynch certainly earned the scorn of voters for his unfounded and inflammatory rhetoric directed at both police reform activists and at Mayor de Blasio during the time that he was trying to hold City Hall accountable for being blamed for the social, legal, and economic costs of the Broken Windows policing that Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Bratton, and the big business community steadfastly defend.  

Nevertheless, Mr. Lynch's swift retreat means that his extortion of anti-protest statements made by Mayor de Blasio and the funding of replacement equipment are the crumbs for which he scrambled to settle, losing a prime opportunity to confront City Hall over the underlying conditions that are driving City Hall to micro-manage the police force.

By folding so soon and instructing rank and file police officers to resume Broken Windows policing, Mr. Lynch may end up costing the police union in various, important ways :

  • City Hall will continue to expect NYPD to act as meter maids, meeting quotas on parking tickets and other revenue-generating summonses ;
  • City Hall will continue to expand the NYPD's responsibilities into areas where police officers face great risks, like improbably performing psychological interventions in a law enforcement confrontation rather than calling on medics specially-trained in dealing with people with mental health needs ;
  • City Hall will continue to ram training down the throats of the police force as a cover story to justify the continuation of Broken Windows policing ;
  • City Hall's continued support for Broken Windows policing will mean that the NYPD will continue to bear the brunt of the blame for carrying out the discrimination and brutality it takes to prosecute Broken Windows policing tactics on increasingly weary minority and low-income communities ;
  • City Hall will never grant police unions the increases in salaries and pension plans they seek, if City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito succeeds in increasing the size of the police force ;
  • By perpetuating a police culture that lacks accountability for misconduct and corruption, the police unions are going to continue to invite new regulations, including proposed legislation that would separately criminalise chokeholds and require consents for searches ; 
  • By opposing a permanent, independent state-level prosecutor to handle cases of police misconduct and corruption, the NYPD is inviting the creation of a permanent, independent commission to both investigate and prosecute officer-involved crimes patterned after the muck-raking Knapp and Mollen commissions ;
  • Controversies created by no-bid contracts approved by Commissioner Bratton are only going to add to the public's perception that the NYPD lacks ethics and professionalism ; and
  • In spite of the fact that New Yorkers generally offer labour unions substantial political support, the police unions have managed to become deprived from any empathy from the broader public, given Mr. Lynch's poor opinion poll ratings, foreshadowing a weakened bargaining position for police unions in the near term. 

During the slowdown ordered by Mr. Lynch, the NYPD moved the closest it's ever recently come to healing the volatile rift between police and community.  The slowdown proved how New York City could remain safe even in the face of a complete suspension of Broken Windows policing.  

Now that Mr. Lynch has metaphorically turned his back on that healing in exchange for crumbs from City Hall, the rank and file police force may finally have found a real reason to vote Mr. Lynch out of office as the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.  In clambering into a hasty retreat, Mr. Lynch has prematurely abandoned his union's role in healing the rift between police and community, cementing a perception that police unions are antagonists in New York communities.  

For all of Mr. Lynch's whines about how police officers are disrespected, Mr. Lynch himself is responsible for the diminished status in which the police union he heads now finds itself.  And for all of Mr. Lynch's complaints about the reforms police reform advocates are championing, the NYPD faces far greater exposure for its controversial tactics, none of which pose bigger political, economic, and legal risks to rank and file police officers than the resumption of Broken Windows policing.

  -- Progress Queens