The Chief

April 7, 2000

 

PBA President: Quotas Add To 'Anti-Cop' Mood

Largest Police Union Aiming to Reduce City Tensions

By William Van Auken

 
PATRICK J. LYNCH: Tensions bad for cops    

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch warned that a system of quotas on arrests and summonses and the increasing politicization of the Police Department are feeding the "worst anti-police atmosphere there has ever been in the NYPD's history."

Appearing at a televised City Council-organized forum March 30, the PBA president said that his union is making efforts to bridge what all of the panelists acknowledged is a widening gap between the police and minority communities in the aftermath of the Diallo verdict and the Patrick Dorismond shooting.

 'A Crisis Situation'

"Right now there is a crisis situation because a Police Officer's job is getting more and more difficult to do out there, and the atmosphere is getting very dangerous to Police Officers and to the community," Mr. Lynch said.

 Some of the police union leader's fellow panelists gave vent to simmering frustrations in their own neighborhoods. "I'm a 67-year-old man, and I never feared the police the way I fear them today," said Bishop Norman N. Quick, a Harlem minister.

 The Rev. Raymond Ramirez of The Bronx spoke from the floor, attributing the animosity between cops and communities to a "city administration that is characterized by a meanness of spirit," and to five police killings - from Anthony Baez to Patrick Dorismond - that have "intensified the fear in our communities, because these people were all unarmed."

The PBA president's appearance on the panel was part of a community outreach that the union has launched with the aim of reducing tensions that are plaguing the Police Officer's job in the city.

Mr. Lynch, who had experience as a community affairs cop in the 90th Precinct before his election last year, has in recent weeks met with clergy members in Harlem as well as Latino and Haitian groups in Brooklyn trying to open up a dialogue.

Mr. Lynch said that cops deserve credit for the historic decline in the city's crime levels. "The change in the city's streets is because my members, New York City Police Officers, went out there and put their blood and sweat into their job." He also disputed the premise that the cops are alien to the communities they serve. "I'm part of this city's community and 60 percent of my members are part of this community," he said. "We have a stake in this city and how it is run."

Asked what measures he would recommend to improve police-community ties, the PBA president raised the issue of quotas, calling for an end to "policies that turn the Police Department into a revenue-getting agency and not a law-enforcement agency."

'Should Be After Quality'

"Cops should be going out there trying to get quality arrests, not quantity," he said. "That puts a huge pressure on a New York City cop ... Numbers don't get us there."

In an interview following the forum, Mr. Lynch said that cops are whipsawed by a pervasive system of arrest and summons quotas. If they fail to achieve the numbers set by their superiors, he said, they face retribution in the form of unfavorable assignments and thwarted careers. If they meet the quotas, they incur the wrath of the communities they police.

"There is a huge pressure on the individual officer to come up with a quantity of arrests and summonses," said Mr. Lynch. "Cops want the emphasis on the quality of the arrests, without being saddled with quotas." The pressure is felt all the more keenly because, with the decline in crime, "the numbers aren't there."

Making arrests and issuing summonses to meet pre-set goals only exacerbates police-community tensions, he said. "How many times do you hear people say, 'How come you're not going after the bad guys? How come you're going after me?'"

Taking on Too Much?

At the same time, the PBA leader said, Police Officers are constantly called upon to solve problems that are not really law-enforcement related. "We are the most visible arm of government there is," he said. "At some time, everyone is going to pass a New York City Police Officer and their problems become that Police Officer's responsibility."

The NYPD's ranks have undergone an unprecedented expansion at the same time that social services have faced a relentless downsizing. As a result, Mr. Lynch suggested, cops find themselves picking up the slack. "All the problems that other agencies can't solve then fall onto the shoulders of the Police Officer on the beat or standing on the corner." Some of these problems - from mental illness to extreme poverty - are "complex social ills," he said, but "but when all else fails," they become police matters.

Tensions generated by police shootings and misguided policing strategies have been sharply intensified by the Police Department becoming ensnared in electoral politics, Mr. Lynch said. "Police Officers are being dragged kicking and screaming into everybody else's politics," he said. "If they're running against the Mayor, the use the police to call for his head. The Mayor does it by touting his relations with police officers and claiming credit for crime reduction, while he does nothing to reward the people who really should get the credit."

Wants Records Private

Mr. Lynch said he disagreed with the Mayor's decision to release Patrick Dorismond's sealed records. He quickly added, however, that he also opposes the policy of releasing cops' disciplinary records and photographs when they are charged with wrongdoing. He also cited the case of two officers who were subjected to a "perp walk" after being accused of beating up a woman in The Bronx. The union filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board against the department's Internal Affairs Bureau over that incident because of court decisions finding the practice illegal.

Mr. Lynch warned that the deterioration of police-community relations is contributing to a looming manpower crisis in the department itself. It is estimated that the department will have to recruit 11,000 new officers to offset the loss of cops retiring.

"These are tense times for police officers, and a lot of them approaching retirement age are opting to get out," he said. "The salaries they are paid are not enough to live on and the tensions make the job that much more difficult."

'No One Wants the Job'

Without improving both salaries and relations with the community, he added, lagging recruitment to the Police Department will decline still further. "A by- product of this dangerous atmosphere is that no one wants to become a Police Officer anymore," he said. "We just had a failed $10-million recruitment campaign. You cannot get people by paying them $700 in take-home pay every two weeks. You can't pay your rent or a mortgage on that."

Meanwhile, Mr. Lynch vowed that the union would continue its community outreach efforts, trying to "put a face" on the police force. He said that in his meetings he has listened to the fears expressed by community leaders while trying to get them to realize that the cops also have concerns and fears and to understand how they do their job.

"One death is too many," Mr. Lynch said of the recent fatal police shootings. "We should strive never to have a death anyplace, either the death of a police officer or a death from a police shooting.

"What gets lost in this is how it affects Police Officers," he added. "They have to live with that death for the rest of their lives."