Thursday, January 8, 2015

Law & Disorder

I’m a Law & Order kinda guy. The original version especially. It came one year short of being the longest running drama on television, which I still blame NBC for. Part of the success and genius of the show is that the stories mattered – the process of solving a crime was the hook. Sure personality was part of it, but the winding curves of getting to the answer remains what I miss most – no other show has picked up the baton. Longtime song and dance man Jerry Orbach culminated an illustrious career portraying for twelve years the world-weary, wisecracking, streetwise NYPD detective Lennie Briscoe. It’s hard to believe that last week marked the 10th anniversary of his death. From his New York Times obituary“ ‘He was, to a lot of people in the rest of world, the face of the New York Police Department,’ said Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, speaking quietly, even solemnly, after a press conference on Wednesday. ‘He did it very well. He has human frailties, and he overcame them. He portrayed New York City police officers as hard working, but as human beings with the same pressures and intentions human beings have. It was very believable.’ " The NYPD today bears little resemblance to the NYPD Lennie Briscoe personified.

The Eric Garner case has been the center of conflict since mid-summer. Garner died after a police officer put him in a chokehold (according to The New York City Medical Examiner's Office). Ruled a homicide, the process moved to a Grand Jury which came back refusing to indict the officer. The public was outraged.

In New York Mayor de Blasio spoke of how he identified with the frustration the public was expressing. He said he understood young black people’s fears about the police, using his own bi-racial son as an example. He also campaigned (and won) in part because of his opposition to the “Stop and Frisk” policy where cops could stop and search people without cause and without a warrant. The NYPD was furious at what they believed to be heresy and a lack of support from their mayor.

Shortly after the Grand Jury decision in late December, NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in an ambush. Many in the Department have drawn a direct line that de Blasio’s perceived lack of support of the department caused the death of the cops. It’s a stretch and something that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has dismissed as not true.

Many officers at the funerals turned their backs when the Mayor spoke. De Blasio, Bratton and many other leaders have called out the Department and the Union for their disrespectful behavior – especially at a funeral.

In the weeks after the killing, and despite de Blasio’s public pronouncements of support for the NYPD, the rank and file are still angry. Statistics from the Department itself show that arrests are down more than 56% and tickets have virtually stopped being issued – they’re down 92%. The Union claims this is not a work slowdown or stoppage. It'd be great to find out what's happened in New York to stop crime so dramatically as I'm sure other cities would benefit from such decreases. 

The NYPD has more employees than the FBI – 49,526 versus 35,105 and operate with a budget of $4.8 billion to cover 469 miles and 8.4 million residents. They even have a branch in Israel. In a 60 Minutes story in 2011 the NYPD was shown to have more sophisticated technology and effectiveness than Homeland Security. It’s all very impressive…but their actions today are not. Can this be because they are insulted and upset as some critics claim?

The members of the NYPD have been working without a contract since 2010.  The proposed contract (from the prior administration of Michael Bloomberg) was not to the Union’s liking. Like the 2 contracts before the police contract is now in arbitration being decided. As soon as this process is completed, a new one will begin as the 2010 contract being decided now only goes to 2014. A new contract is needed through 2018.

Novice mayor de Blasio does not placate the NYPD, and brings a different perspective. He also brought back the Police Commissioner who has had the most success of any other – in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. He’s not anti-police.

The issues between police and the public, race relations and how they all mix (and don’t mix) are complicated and must be addressed – and not just in New York. It's disingenuous to use the race issues to mask a contract dispute. In the Big Apple those sworn to “serve and protect” need to start doing the job they’ve been hired to do. Good thing Lennie’s not around to see this.

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