PBA Boss Patrick Lynch's Defense of Ticket-Fixing 'Culture' Hurts the NYPD -- So How About a Grassroots Recall Effort?
November 03, 2011
By Heather Mac Donald
The police union is damaging critical bonds of trust between New Yorkers and the cops who risk their lives to serve them
Of all the blows dealt to the reputation of the NYPD over recent weeks, the worst is self-inflicted. Last Friday, as the Bronx district attorney indicted 11 police officers for fixing tickets on behalf of other officers’ friends and family, hundreds of police union delegates and trustees noisily rallied at the Bronx courthouse in support of the defendants, in a stunning display of contempt for the law. Some of the protesters jeered the district attorney; a few others tried to interfere with cameramen; many held up signs declaring — incredibly — that fixing tickets was part of “NYPD culture.”
There are several possible explanations for such behavior. Each is more disturbing than the last.
Perhaps Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association officials actually believe that they will gain public support for the police by justifying lawbreaking. If so, their disconnect from reality is shocking. An officer’s ability to perform his job, which can entail the use of lethal force, depends on the public’s confidence that he is acting impartially. Throw such impartiality into question and an officer’s moral authority crumbles.
Or perhaps NYPD cops are so hunkered down that they don’t care what the public thinks about them. Cop culture contains a strong bunker mentality, much of it understandable. The media and the political elites have made cops the scapegoats for America’s continuing racial problems, blaming the police, not criminals, for racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Unlike those elites, cops regularly confront the dysfunctions of underclass culture, yet are expected not to be affected by or speak about that sometimes sickening reality. They interact as often with individuals who despise them as with the many law-abiding members of poor communities who support them.
Solidarity under such circumstances is essential to keeping sane on the job. But this solidarity quickly shades into an “us against them” attitude — the “them” encompassing nearly all police supervisors as well as the public — that verges on outright paranoia. Here, it seems to have morphed into a dangerous sense of entitlement to manipulate the law — and to boast about it.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has argued that the other recent alleged incidents of corruption — such as the eight current and former officers who smuggled contraband into the city and allegations that an officer planted drugs on innocent suspects — represent isolated instances of misdoing. However deplorable, a handful of such misdeeds are almost unavoidable in an organization as large as the NYPD. The dozen or so cases of additional corruption not revolving around ticket-fixing represent a mere 0.03% of the force.
This would be a good argument but for the fact that the PBA is proudly justifying ticket-fixing. If its officials are so ethically challenged as to not see a problem here, why should anyone have confidence that this allegedly ingrained “cultural” favoritism toward friends and family doesn’t also extend to friends and family arrested for drug dealing or assault? (Indeed, one of the five officers indicted last Friday for crimes other than ticket-fixing had intervened on behalf of a friend who had committed assault.)
The PBA thinks that the fact that the ticket-fixers did not exact bribes mitigates their wrongdoing. To the contrary, petty greed is less troubling than a nonpecuniary sense of being above the law.
The best-case scenario is that the PBA’s rally on behalf of fellow lawbreakers represents a union mentality alone, one not shared by the rank and file. Unfortunately, comments about the ticket-fixing indictments on the unofficial website for NYPD cops, Thee Rant (formerly known as NYPD Rant), do not support that hypothesis. Commenters extended “kudos” to the PBA protesters and urged them to “fight for what’s right.”
To be sure, website discourse is a highly unscientific gauge of group opinion. The Web’s ticket-fixing defenders may themselves be union reps. It must also be said that the web ranters are unsparing in their condemnation of the more serious instances of corruption, calling, for example, for indicted Officer Jose Ramos, who allegedly protected a drug dealer and extorted another one, to “die in jail.”
Kelly has implemented an electronic system for processing traffic summons that will make it much more difficult to fix tickets. But the real damage to the city from this scandal is not a loss in revenue. The real damage is to public confidence in the NYPD. How about a grassroots recall campaign of PBA President Patrick Lynch — who called for the Bronx protest — to reassure the public that not all cops believe that the police are above the law?
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