Irish Echo

March 15-21, 2000

St. Patrick's Day
Rebel with a cause

By Harry Keaney

Sitting in his 17th floor Manhattan office resplendent with panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Patrick Lynch, the new president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, doesn't quite seem like the union outsider or dissident that, in the past, he's often been called.

But appearances are deceptive; he's still an officer and rebel.

Lynch, who's 36, is the union leader for the 29,000 officers, those he calls "the foot soldiers," of the New York City Police Department. Their contract with the city expires in July and Lynch's team is now formulating the PBA's strategy for getting what he calls "a decent livable wage."

Negotiations on the contract, which start next month, will be the new president's first big test, the result of which will affect every police officer on the beat.

"He knows what needs to be done as regards getting the officers better benefits, better pay," said former NYPD First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, now police commissioner in Philadelphia.

Lynch, it is apparent, retains the insurgent's fire in the belly.

"For the last five years, New York City cops had no raise," he said. "That was the same time period when crime dropped in double digits. The city is better now because of the work my members did."

He added that police officers needed a raise because on their salaries alone they cannot keep their children and families. "They have to work two and three jobs, and their wives have to work as well," he said.

Meanwhile, the police department must also confront the scenario in which more police officers than ever are eligible to retire on pension. This at the same time when the department is struggling to attract recruits.

But Lynch said more than pay is at stake. There's the stress of their job, as well as, what he calls the "second guessing" of officers by the police department.

"The concern is, 'if I stay more than 20 years, I am risking my pension if I get in trouble,' " he said. "That has to change."

He noted that on the sides of NYPD patrol cars is "CPR, Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect."

"I would ask the city to respect New York City police officers," Lynch said. "What I ask people to do is look past the uniform and realize that a police officer is a human being who has to deal with the pressures of the job and then go home and deal with the pressures that others deal with. You are dealing with death and dying and after dealing with that, you may be second-guessed by the police department."

As to the outcry over the fatal shooting of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo and the torture of Abner Louima, Lynch said that "other folks' political agendas overshadow the good work" that's done by police officers.

"Every single day, individual police officers interact with thousands of people," Lynch said. "These people leave satisfied that the job is getting done by New York City cops, and with a feeling of security. That gets lost in other peoples' political agendas."

Although some police officers who are under stress resort to suicide, Lynch pointed out that the PBA has programs to enable officers get counseling. "And if that fails, cops can come and speak to me," Lynch said.

Open door

Being accessible to cops is a central plank of the new PBA president's approach to the job. "We have opened doors here, it's now more cop friendly," he said.

It wasn't always so, according to Lynch and others. Indeed, a major factor in Lynch's winning the bitterly contested election, making him the youngest PBA president ever, was the feeling among officers that the previous union leadership had become distant from its members.

"The same group of people were here from 1977," Lynch said. "Myself and my entire slate came straight from police precincts throughout the city."

Like all insurgents, the new president has brought in new blood. Some say he had little choice; three PBA lawyers were convicted of federal racketeering charges last year for their activities at another union. Since his election, Lynch has fired a union lobbyist and hired a new chief of staff, a new general counsel and a new grievance lawyer. And 13 of the 27-member PBA executive board are newcomers.

"The organization had got stagnant," Lynch said. "What's different now is that we have an entire executive board that's working together for the betterment of police officers. The board now reflects cops that are out on the street."

Lynch himself spent 16 years on the street, in the 90th Precinct, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He now has "excusal" from the police department to enable him carry out the full-time job of PBA president for a term of four years. Both the NYPD and the PBA each pay him $49,000 a year.

Irish tradition

As PBA president, Lynch is carrying on the rich Irish tradition of involvement in both law enforcement and the labor movement. His late uncle Patrick Hyland was an NYPD sergeant who was awarded the Combat Cross. His great-grandfather on his father's side was an inspector in the police department.

Lynch's mother, Mary Hyland, was born in Garryroe, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo. His father, Robert, is a native New Yorker who traces his roots to Dalystown, Co. Westmeath.

If police work is a thread running through the Lynch and Hyland families, so too is their Irish background. Today, the Irish flag sits in the corner of PBA president Lynch's office, a Gárda Síochána cap rests in another and a statue of a kilted bagpiper adorns the window sill overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. "I'm in the County Tyrone Pipe Band, I play the base drum," Lynch said, explaining the presence of the piper figure.

One of seven children born in Bayside, Queens, Lynch, attended grade school there in St. Robert Bellarmine, where he met Kathleen, whom he later married; now their sons, Patrick, 9, and Kevin, 6, attend the school.

During an 11-day transit strike in 1980, Lynch's father, a motorman for 30 years, took his youngest son along to the picket line. "That's when the seed of unionism started to grow within me," Lynch said. "I saw then that if workers stood together for a common goal, it could be done."

After graduating from Monsignor Scanlon High School, in the Bronx, Lynch worked as a transit conductor, then joined the NYPD and was assigned to the 90th Precinct. Sixteen years later, he sounds passionate about his choice of work.

"This is a job where you can change how things are," Lynch said of being a police officer. "When a policeman comes on the scene, you have the opportunity to steer things to the good. I don't think there's a job on the face of the earth with the opportunity to change things like this one."

After walking a beat and riding in a car for eight years, he became a community liaison officer.

In 1989, he was chosen as one of three PBA delegates from the 90th Precinct. But, he said, "frustrated and angry that the union was playing politics and not helping cops," he launched his own reformist newsletter.

Although he never rose to become a member of the PBA's 27-member executive board, he decided to launch his own campaign for the presidency. His outsider status paid off when he became the first challenger to beat an incumbent in 19 years.

Commissioner Timoney said that Lynch pulled off an election victory that most people thought wasn't possible, particularly since he didn't have the advantages of incumbency.

"He got the job through sheer hard work, shoe leather, visiting the station houses," Timoney said. "I think he was able to articulate the frustrations of the average cop. He is a very knowledgeable individual, smart, gives a good appearance and very articulate. I think he will do great."