Yesterday, Dylan Scott wrote this report on why police unions are lashing out against critics with an intensity we’ve not seen in years and perhaps never seen. Unions support their members when they’re under attack or targets of criticism, which police very much are today. But the intensity, I believe, points to a fear that the sharply reduced crime rate in the country today may not sustain the relative freedom from criticism police officers enjoyed for much of latter part of the 20th century.
But it’s been jarring to see some of the most vitriolic, almost insurrectionary talk come from the head of the police union here in New York City. A few days ago, Pat Lynch, head of the city’s largest police union called on officers to request that Mayor de Blasio not attend their funerals if they are killed in the line of duty.
As the pre-printed form reads …
“Due to Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s consistent refusal to show police officers the support and respect they deserve, I believe that their attendance at the funeral of a fallen New York City police officer is an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice.”
Today there’s more. At Capital New York, Ari Paybarah reports on a recording of a private meeting with union reps last Friday in which Lynch appeared to call on officers to slow roll their enforcement work because of a lack of support from the city’s political leaders. (A union spokesman denied this interpretation of Lynch’s remarks.)
“If we won’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,” he said last Friday. “Let me be perfectly clear. We will use extreme discretion in every encounter.”
He also said, “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.”
On the recording, Lynch also says de Blasio “is not running the city of New York. He thinks he’s running a fucking revolution.”
The head of the city’s police union obviously has free speech. And it’s his role to defend the membership in general. But the level of rhetoric here gets you well outside the bounds of what seems normal, expected or frankly acceptable.
I’m not sure what else to make of all this yet. But this kind of over-the-top rant suggests an extreme defensiveness, a breakdown in assumed patterns of deference and “respect”, as Lynch puts it. Police officers and their families will always be a major constituency group in a big city. But this kind of talk gets you to some very basic questions of just who the police work for. Who do they think they work for?