The New York Times

July 25, 2002

P.B.A. Names Black Officer to No. 3 Post


The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which has often played a divisive role in the Police Department's sometimes difficult relations with minority communities around the city, has for the first time elevated an African-American officer to the union's five-member governing board.

The officer, Mubarak Abdul-Jabbar, 46, who joined the force in 1983, will be elevated to the No. 3 position in the union, succeeding the second vice president, John Loud, a respected 61-year-old officer and longtime delegate who led a reform movement in the union. The appointment was made by Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the 22,800-member union, and it was announced at a board meeting on Tuesday, union officials said.

Officer Lynch said he was appointing Officer Abdul-Jabbar to the post because of his experience — 14 years on patrol and nearly 18 years as a union delegate or official. But in a union that critics have long viewed as a catalyst for the hostility between the police and the black and Latino communities, his ascension to the executive board is perhaps one of several portents of change, albeit a small one.

For decades, many black and Hispanic officers have viewed the union with suspicion and complained that it has failed to represent their interests as aggressively as it does white officers in issues like disciplinary hearings and helping them win desirable assignments. The union has come under particular criticism for being too quick to defend white officers accused of brutality against minorities. Those feelings have drawn black and Latino officers to activist fraternal groups, like 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care, The Guardians Association and the Latino Officers Association, which have often been critical of the department and the union.

The concerns among some minority officers grew after the investigation of the police torture of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn station house bathroom, when prosecutors accused some union officials of conspiring to cover up the assault. Mr. Louima, a Haitian immigrant, sued not only the city and the Police Department, winning a $7.125 million settlement, but also the union, which paid $1.625 million. It was believed to be the first time a police union anywhere in the country paid to settle a brutality case.

But in an interview yesterday at the union's Financial District offices, Officer Abdul-Jabbar said that his appointment should send a clear signal not just to black officers who feel alienated from their union, but to all New Yorkers. "To the disenfranchised officer, this is obviously an opportunity," he said, adding of the upper echelon of the union: "It's no longer the forbidden ground."

He said the P.B.A. was seeking to make changes so that the union — and the department — would be more reflective of the city that its members patrol. As of June 30, before the recent class of recruits entered the Police Academy, about 64 percent of the department's roughly 39,000 officers were white, 14 percent were black and 19 percent Hispanic, according to police figures.

"We are not the occupying force or the enemy," he said, "we are here to police for the citizenry of New York and to make New York a safe and better place of us to raise our kids." Officer Abdul-Jabbar lives in the Bronx and he noted that four of the union's five top board members lived in the city.

Jim Curran, a former city police officer and the dean of special projects at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the appointment to fill out the last 11 months of Officer Loud's elected term suggested that the union was making a commitment to greater diversity. "It's a wonderful step," he said. "I think to the extent that this shows a natural progress of change in the organization, it's very positive."

Officer Abdul-Jabbar, a practicing Muslim, is a tall, trim man with an easy smile. He seems as comfortable in the navy blue suit and tie of a union official as he was in the Transit Police uniform he wore patrolling the subways in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. After growing up in Harlem and the South Bronx, he attended Hunter College for one year. With the help of a scholarship, he attended Columbia University for two years, but left school to work as a clerk in a law firm to support a growing family, he said. A few years later, he joined the Transit Authority Police and quickly became active in the union, he said.

When the Transit and Housing Police Departments merged into the larger N.Y.P.D. in 1995, he continued to serve as a delegate. Within a year, he became a member of the P.B.A.'s lower board, representing the transit officers, most of whom worked in a newly created Transit Bureau.

Yesterday he was quick to note that change does not come overnight.

"We're not going to eradicate the racial injustice of society overnight or the perception of racial injustice overnight," he said, "but we are — by example — showing that we recognize that we are dealing with the real issues that exist and that qualified people in this organization get the qualified positions, pure and simple."

Officer Loud, a veteran patrolman and union insurgent who served 30 of his 33 years in the department on patrol is stepping down from his position as he nears retirement age. Officer Loud alternately wrestled with suspects and previous union administrations, which he had labeled corrupt or incompetent for letting a group of lawyers eventually convicted of federal racketeering charges handle the union's finances.

Officer Loud ultimately joined forces with Officer Lynch, and they were part of a team elected to head the union in 1999. During the campaign, Officer Loud began reaching out to minority communities, visiting churches in black and Hispanic neighborhoods in an effort, he said at the time, to show the city's hard-working people that the police were there to protect them.

But while several black officers and supervisors interviewed yesterday praised the new appointment, they also remained skeptical about changes inside the union, and speaking privately, raised questions about the future. "It's a sign of change and progress," said one supervisor. "However, the P.B.A. has a long way to go before they can be declared a progressive organization."