Irish Echo

February 26-March 4, 2003

Badge of honor

PBA head Patrick Lynch digs in against city’s administration

By Sarah Freeman

Patrick Lynch looked out of his 17th story office window and admired the view: a panoramic vista of the Brooklyn Bridge and the streets below. It is a lot more pleasant than what most police officers have to look at every day. Yet Lynch, a police officer for 19 years, is enjoying the luxury.

It was three and a half years ago that Lynch made the move from the 90th Precinct in Brooklyn to the Lower Manhattan office. As president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, this office became his headquarters, where he makes decisions that affect the working lives of the 23,000 members of the union.

Lynch is near the end of his four-year tenure as president of the world's largest police union. He hopes to be reelected to a second term. His brief is to ensure that union members receive the rights and benefits they are entitled to. Last week, Lynch talked about the various problems he has with the current administration. "The city is being penny wise, pound foolish in underfunding the NYPD," he said. "You can't overestimate the safety factor. When a place is safe, tourists will come, people will relocate here."

The PBA represents the White Shields, the police officers on the street, the most visible arm of the government. Lynch spent 16 years as a police officer. He is familiar with the issues peculiar to officers.

"Back then, I didn't think the union was serving us well," he said. "There was little contact with the members and the PBA president was rarely seen."

He decided to do something about it. "I felt I could do a better job," he said. "We formed a group of delegates and won. It was the first challenged election in 25 years."

Lynch is a small man with piercing blue eyes. There is no doubt that he has a passion for the NYPD, but much of what he says resembles sound bites. It is clear that he has trotted out these opinions on countless occasions.

The youngest of seven children, he was brought up with a respect for the shield. His brother was a lieutenant and his uncle Patrick Hyland was awarded the combat cross for his work as a sergeant. Lynch himself always dreamed of becoming a police officer.

"You get the chance to do good things," he said. "I think that's why so many Irish are attracted to the job. The Irish have always been struggling for what's right."

Lynch's father was a motorman in the New York Transit Authority for 30 years. "I remember the 1980 transit strike," Lynch said. "I was off from school and walked the picket line with him. That was when the union bug really bit me. I realized that you can change things if you stand together."

To date, Lynch has raised the profile of police issues with media campaigns and rallies, the largest of which attracted an estimated 15,OOO police officers and firefighters in Time Square last August.

"We felt members were not being treated fairly," he said. "We were asking for a livable wage and to be treated with respect."

Lynch took the large turnout as an indication of support for the new Union management. His team consists of an executive board with 27 elected police officers and an administrative staff of 100.

Lynch's biggest concern at the moment is the current recruitment and retention crisis in the NYPD.

"We are the lowest-paid police force in the country, so officers go to greener pastures," he said. "They need to be able to put food on the table for their family, put sneakers on their children's feet. The average officer takes home $450 a week; that's not enough to pay the rent, let alone to ask them to lay their lives on the line."

Lynch outlined another aspect of the dilemma. "Not only is it difficult to attract qualified candidates," he said, "but we can't hold onto veteran police officers."

Last year, 4,000 police officers took retirement and more than 1,000 younger, fully trained police officers left to take up better-paid offers around the country.

Lynch worries about the repercussions of this crisis.

"The mayor keeps talking about layoffs and reductions," he said. "If this trend continues, we will not be able to keep on top of crime. In the current climate, the last place you should be cutting is the police department."

Adding to the low morale in the force is the public perception of how the NYPD handled the anti-war rally in Manhattan two weeks ago. Lynch was firm in his belief that the police did the best job they could under difficult circumstances.

"We feel that the criticism being heaped on the police department by opportunists is absolutely wrong," he said. "There were thousands of people on the street, able to protest their ideas freely without any harassment. Those complaining are those who got arrested. They are trying to turn the march into something it shouldn't be."

His response to the amateur video footage of the rally, in which police can be seen backing horses into crowds, using pepper spray and going after protesters with nightsticks, is equally non-negotiable.

"I haven't seen tapes," he said, "but I have been informed that the tapes have been doctored. Show the raw footage, and you will see that the police were probably provoked by a crowd we had to control."

Lynch has other gripes with the city. He is at odds with the city's policy of zero tolerance, believing that it makes a police officer's job more difficult.

"We don't want the city to give a quota on the number of arrests and summonses," he said. "That takes away the officers' discretion to give someone who may have made a mistake the opportunity to correct that mistake and move on."

The PBA president's office comes with its own collection of police paraphernalia, including an eye-catching collection of police hats and helmets, with headwear from the Italian Alps, England and Ireland.

His old police truncheon lies on his desk, a reminder of the realities of police work. Perhaps, the most poignant collection in the office is the pile of Mass cards on the desk. "They are daily reminders of colleagues who have lost their lives on duty," Lynch said. "They remind me why I am doing this job."