Updated: 7:36 pm, Fri Feb 13, 2015.

Police Unions, de Blasio Finding Common Ground

Icy Relationship Thawing

By Mark toor

Mayor de Blasio released a preliminary budget last week that called for no increases in headcount for the NYPD. “It’s an ongoing discussion,” he said.

The reaction from the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants’ Benevolent Associations, which had criticized his every law-enforcement-related move in December, was muted.

Hostilities Cool

It marked a startling change from December, when PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said cops felt the Mayor was “throwing them under a bus” with his reaction to a grand-jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

He and SBA President Edward D. Mullins said later in that month that Mr. de Blasio had “blood on [his] hands” for the murder of Police Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, shot by a mentally-ill ex-con who sent social-media messages saying he was taking revenge for the deaths of Mr. Garner and another unarmed black man in suburban St. Louis at the hands of white police officers.

A few days before that, Mr. Mullins called Mr. de Blasio a “total nincompoop” for his handling of Garner-related protests after a Lieutenant had his nose broken trying to stop demonstrators at the Brooklyn Bridge from throwing a garbage can on officers below.

Condoned Back-Turning

The unions defended officers outside the funerals of Officers Ramos and Liu who turned their backs on Mr. de Blasio’s televised image as he eulogized them.

But the anger seems to have dissipated in the relationship between the Mayor and the two unions after Mr. de Blasio became more emphatic in his criticism of anti-police activities, including a rap video that advocated the killing of cops, and City Council bills the unions opposed.

Mr. Lynch issued a statement with more-measured language than he had used in December. “We have testified before a State Senate committee on establishing minimum-staffing requirements for the NYPD along with a permanent, dedicated tax to support the headcount similar to the Safe Streets, Safe City program,” he said. “The NYPD has 7,000 fewer police officers on the street since 1999 while the population and demand for police services have grown dramatically.

“It is an issue that impacts public safety as well as the safety and quality of life of our officers, who are being denied the time off they need to recharge and de-stress themselves from a high-pressure, high-risk job. If we are to keep the city safe from traditional crime and terrorism, then we must begin staffing up now because it is a slow process to recruit, hire and train police officers.” The department’s uniformed headcount is down from more than 41,000 in 2001 to 34,500 today.

Mullins: Stretched Thin

“I’m a little disappointed,” Mr. Mullins said in an interview. “You’d think we’d be getting more manpower. We are stretched thin.” He said his union now has 4,700 members, 900 fewer than in 2001.

But he said it’s clear that “de Blasio has taken steps to try and mend fences with the NYPD rank and file...I’ve seen a lot in the past couple weeks where he’s making headway on issues that are important to members of the NYPD.”

The Mayor, apparently responding to union complaints that his positive rhetoric about the NYPD did not match his actions, has made other pro-police moves. He supported City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s proposal to spend $7.3 million on new bulletproof vests and vowed to veto a City Council bill that would criminalize chokeholds when used by police officers.

A Shift on Suits

He also criticized the Department of Law as unfair to cops for its unwritten but longstanding policy of settling lawsuits involving police officers even when the officers were in the right. He indicated that he might soften his opposition to efforts to equalize line-of-duty-disability pensions for officers hired before and after 2010.

Mr. Mullins last month sat down with Mr. de Blasio to discuss how they could work together in the future. While declining to give details of the talk, the SBA leader said, “I had a very pleasant conversation with him. He was a gentleman.”

The Mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal 2016 calls for spending $4.5 billion on the NYPD, a $42-million decrease from the current budget, which runs through June 30. It calls for keeping headcount flat, at 34,483 uniformed officers, through 2019. The civilian headcount is to decrease from 15,051 this year to 14,849, then remain at that level through 2019.

His spending plan would add 520 Police Cadet positions, maintain the number of Police Communications Technicians, increase the level of technology and give every officer an e-mail account.

More Cop Hirings Due?

Asked by a reporter about the lack of an increase in officers, Mr. de Blasio responded, “As you know, Commissioner Bratton and his team have just finished their re-engineering evaluation, and they’ve put forward an initial plan. We’re having very serious discussions about that. We’re obviously going to have discussions with the City Council as well. So, that’s not going to be ready until we get to the executive budget.”

He noted that crime had continued to drop while the NYPD was using the resources it already has.

Ms. Mark-Viverito proposed adding another 1,000 officers last spring, but Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton said they weren’t necessary. A few months later, Mr. Bratton said that Ms. Mark-Viverito had been correct; the NYPD needed 1,000 officers, maybe more. He told a State Senate committee more recently that the department did not have enough officers.