WASHINGTON — It is quietly morphing into one of the most portentous American police protests in generations, a near-total collapse in arrests and summonses for low-level offences throughout New York City.
For a third week running, people in the five boroughs are suddenly 10 times less likely to be ticketed than they were a year ago and less than half as likely to be detained.
Call it backlash. Call it reverse-flexing of NYPD muscle. Call it a semi-strike with pay. Just don’t call it orchestrated, lest you invoke the wrath of Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of New York, by far the largest of the labour unions representing the city’s cops.
Lynch has led a headline-grabbing war of words with New York’s mayor, going so far as to say there is “blood on the hands” of Bill de Blasio in the wake of the Dec. 20 slayings of two NYPD officers. And later, a prime motivating force behind the mass turning of police backs on the mayor as he eulogized those police deaths.
But Tuesday, as the heft of new data sunk in — by one metric, only 347 criminal summonses were written in the week ending Sunday, compared to 4,077 for the same week a year ago — Lynch’s office denied any co-ordinated effort in an email titled, “No Slowdown.”
“Following the senseless assassination of two fine police officers, precautions had to be taken to protect police officers so that they could protect the city’s communities,” wrote Lynch.
Instead, Lynch cited a dangerous encounter late Monday in which two plainclothes NYPD officers about to go off shift were instead shot and critically wounded as they answered a call of robbery in progress as evidence of business-as-usual.
“Our members are out there doing their jobs and putting themselves in danger to keep this city safe just as they always do,” wrote Lynch. “That’s a clear demonstration of police officers’ dedication to duty and that there is no union-initiated or supported slowdown.”
But few appear to be taking Lynch’s words at face value. Earlier in December, with the NYPD reeling from protests over a grand jury decision not to indict an officer in the choking death of Eric Garner, Lynch was recorded telling police union delegates to act defiantly with “extreme discretion” in the absence of support from city hall.
“If we don’t get support when we do our jobs, if we’re going to get hurt for doing what’s right, then we’re going to do it the way they want it,” said Lynch, according to a recording of the private meeting obtained by Capital New York.
“Let me be perfectly clear. We will use extreme discretion in every encounter,” Lynch continued. “Our friends, we’re courteous to them. Our enemies, extreme discretion. The rules are made by them to hurt you. Well now we’ll use those rules to protect us.”
The chill — and the non-slowdown slowdown — is expected to take a toll on city coffers, as the flow of fines dries up. It comes amid a backdrop of contract talks aimed at winning a raise for Lynch’s membership.
The embattled de Blasio on Tuesday moved again to praise his officers, citing the “extraordinary bravery” of the plainclothes cops shot Monday, saying they went “above and beyond the call to protect their fellow New Yorkers.
“The hearts and prayers of a grateful city go out to those two fine men and their loved ones,” he added. Both officers in Monday’s shootings are expected to survive.
De Blasio’s remarks came as he joined NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to St. Barnabas Hospital to visit Andrew Dossi, 30, one of the two cops shot Monday. In an interview with CBS2, the officer’s father said his son “wasn’t too happy about the mayor’s visit.”
What some now are calling New York’s “thin-skinned blue line” has roots stretching back to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign, which included harsh criticism of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies.
But even as de Blasio softens his rhetoric, many in the NYPD remain seized upon the mayor’s frank commentary in the wake of the Garner decision, including an admission that he sat down with his bi-racial son, Dante, to coach him on the “dangers” of encounters with police.
Lynch appeared to demand more in an interview published late Tuesday by National Public Radio, calling for an outright apology from de Blasio and again denying any co-ordinated police effort to let low-level crime pass without sanction.