The New York Times

November 26, 1999

Patrolling the Beat at the Union Office Now


"The plexiglass shield was over there, and this is the famous locked door," said Police Officer Patrick J. Lynch, pointing. The new president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association turned the brass handle of the door lock that used to bar uniformed officers from their union leaders, who were ensconced in a luxe Manhattan office suite at 40 Fulton Street with breathtaking river views. It went like this: the glassed-in receptionist in the lobby would buzz only approved visitors into the inner sanctum. "It was as if they needed to be protected from their own membership," said Officer Lynch. "It infuriated me and the other police officers every time we came here."

And so, when he took office July 1 after soundly defeating three other candidates in a bitterly contested election, the plexiglass came down and the door was unlocked that very day. "It was the beginning of a new open-door era,'' said the 15-year police veteran, who, at 36, is the youngest to occupy the presidency of the 29,000-member union.

An outsider who had no ties to the Giuliani Administration or the P.B.A. board, Officer Lynch was the first challenger to beat an incumbent in 19 years. It is now his task to accomplish a morale-and-image lift following the firestorm over the Abner Louima torture-by-police case and the fatal shooting of the unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo.

As Officer Lynch attempts to transform himself from an insurgent into the leader of one of the state's most powerful labor unions, he is under intense pressure to improve the membership's contract and to clean house at the P.B.A. Three of its lawyers were convicted of federal racketeering charges last year for their activities at another union.

His cudgel in these battles is the success of the police force "in making New York a safer city," he said. While the mayor and police commissioner have gotten credit for plummeting crime statistics, "I never saw the commissioner in my back seat on patrol," said Officer Lynch, who has the black Irish good looks and requisite charm to pass as a lost sibling of the acting Baldwin brothers.

Now he receives $49,000 as the union president as well as $49,000 as a working police officer. Indeed, as he sat down to be interviewed, Officer Lynch's left pant leg lifted to reveal his ankle holster clasping a 38-caliber pistol.

Born in Bayside, Queens, he attended grade school there at St. Robert Bellarmine, where he met Kathleen, whom he later married; now their sons, Patrick, 8, and Kevin, 6, attend as well.

As the seventh of seven children "I didn't get beat up a lot, I usually talked my way around it," Officer Lynch said, deadpan. He was inspired to activism by his father, Robert, a transit motorman for 30 years, who brought his youngest son to the picket line during the 11-day transit strike in 1980.

After graduating from Monsignor Scanlon High School in the Bronx, Mr. Lynch worked as a transit conductor, then joined the force and was assigned to the Nine-O: the 90th Precinct in Williamsburg. After walking a beat and riding in a radio car for eight years, he became a community liaison officer.

He was designated one of the three P.B.A. delegates from the 90th Precinct in 1989, then, "frustrated and angry that the union was playing politics and not helping cops," he said, he launched a mimeographed two-sided reformist newspaper.

Evicted from union committees as a dissident, and shunned by those afraid to be seen with him, Officer Lynch never rose to become one of the P.B.A.'s 27 executive board members. But last spring he mounted a 24-hour-a-day election campaign, making impromptu speeches in station houses and muster rooms. Now the outsider status that brought him victory has sparked criticism that he lacks experience in managing a union bureaucracy. So far Officer Lynch has fired a union lobbyist and hired a new chief of staff, a new general counsel and a new grievance lawyer, he said. Though this is hardly a throw-the-bums-out housecleaning, some management holdovers "have contracts they have to work through," he said.

These days the untested president is assembling a team to begin in April to negotiate a contract to replace the five-year agreement that expires next year. Many officers have been incensed by what they call the double zeroes — a wage freeze during the first two years of their current contract.

In recent years, while crime fell to historic lows, the city's 40,000 police officers — once the highest paid in the country — "have gotten near the bottom of the scale," Officer Lynch contended. The budget surplus is directly attributable to the city's "new reputation as a safe city," he argued, adding, "All we're asking for is our fair share."

Officer Lynch already has support from an unusual place for a P.B.A. president: the police commissioner. Commissioner Howard Safir said in an interview that New York's police are "underpaid," adding, "I truly believe the previous leadership let them down."

In a coup for Officer Lynch, Commissioner Safir traveled the seven blocks south from l Police Plaza to pay a visit in August to the new president. "As far as I know, no other police commissioner has ever done that," Commissioner Safir said about the house call. "I wanted to make clear to Pat and others at the P.B.A that this is a partnership."