We got a huge response to the piece I posted yesterday morning from TPM Reader LC, a police officer from the suburban New York City area who describes himself as a progressive Democrat. There were a few points I wanted to expand on and explain about the piece, partly in answer to your questions.
First, a number of you asked why LC didn’t address this or that question or issue in his email. In part this is just a matter of no one email being able to address every issue tied either to recent news or the general issue of police-community relations. But more specifically, I wanted to make clear that the email you read was one LC wrote in response to a specific request: to give me his reaction to my post on NYPD union leader Pat Lynch’s recent comments and the war between the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio in general.
Second – and LC made this point to me in an email follow up today – in a number of instances in the email LC was trying to capture what he sees as the attitudes and beliefs of police officers in general, not necessarily his own views. This is a key point. I thought that was clear in the piece. But I wanted to emphasize it again.
The third point has more to do with me and my interest in publishing LC’s note.
On twitter today a few people said, well, why does it matter if he says he’s liberal? Or why does he have to be liberal to get your attention? Most of this was trolling, I think. But it gets to a real issue that I wanted to expand on, why I found LC’s perspective so clarifying and why I wanted to share it.
As I noted in yesterday morning’s post, police officers tend to be more conservative than the population at large. So in a variety of questions I’m trying to get my head around on this issue, I am not interested in hearing boilerplate conservative positions validated because they are coming from a police officer. If a police officer says that de Blasio is putting a target on the backs of police officers by cheering on protestors and encouraging anti-police hatred, I’m pretty suspicious of that because that is really not consistent with the reality I’m seeing. Just as importantly, though, I don’t want to give myself the out of thinking, “Well, sure this police officer says that. But that’s because he’s a right-winger not because he’s a police officer.”
The entire conversation about policing is heavily, heavily politicized on both sides of the equation. So getting LC’s perspective on a variety of issues allowed me to get a control, as it were, both on the ideological-leanings of many police officers and on my own biases as well. From my limited conversations with LC and from his being a reader of and emailer to the site over many years, I think he has a set of political viewpoints and perspectives that are at least broadly similar to my own. There is other information LC shared with me but which we edited out to maintain his anonymity which further confirms this perception for me. So if he makes a point that I wouldn’t expect or don’t agree with, I’m going to tend to think it’s not about ideology but about the experience of police work itself. And that is really valuable information for me to have.
No one person’s views can speak for whole classes of people or lines of work. But it’s a clarifying corrective.
One of the things that stood out to me most in LC’s comments came on that central question of who do you work for? If I’m understanding LC’s point, he’s saying police don’t see themselves as working for the Mayor or the Police Chief or the people in a generalized sense so much as the law itself. Here are the laws the system passed and our job is to enforce them. That’s who answer to.
I don’t think many police officers would see this as an absolute. Of course, they serve the community. Of course, they answer to their chain of command and civilian leadership. And as LC mentions in various places, all police exercise a lot of discretion over just which laws to enforce at which times and in what way. But it is still a viewpoint that is clarifying and revealing for me. And one that is significantly different from how I at least see the matter.