January 22, 2003

Police Academy 2003: It’s Not Boo-ing
Booooo-berg: Police Families Jeer Mayor

They’re Just Saying ‘Bloooooooo-mberg’

By William Mauldin

Friends and relatives of the of the city’s newest police officers loudly booed Mayor Bloomberg – twice – yesterday at the Police Academy graduation at Madison Square Garden.

The first boo – a low, resonant roar that steadily grew in power – arose from the packed Garden as Mr. Bloomberg was introduced along with other honored guests on the dais.

The audience booed the mayor again when he stood to speak, through the second roar of disapproval was mingled with some applause.

The booing emanated not from the 2,108 Police Academy graduates, who sat solemnly with white-gloved hands resting palm-down on their laps, but from their friends and family, who filled the 19,763-seat Madison Square Garden almost to capacity.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking to the press after the graduation ceremony, said the booing was merely the result of a “rambunctious crowd.”

“Mayors have always gotten a bit of static at Police Academy graduations,” he said. “It comes with the territory.”

But the president of the police union, Patrick Lynch, said the boos were a deliberate protest of the possible layoffs looming over the department – especially its newest members.

“This particular group will feel the effects of the scare of getting laid off,” Mr. Lynch told The New York Sun after the ceremony.

City officials warned early this year that the city might have to resort to layoffs to trim an additional $93.4 million from the police department’s $3.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2004. The mayor suggested last week that layoffs might not be necessary.

A former instructor at the police academy, Council Member James Davis, said the booing probably came from parents who know their children would be the first to go.

A former police officer in the audience, Milton John, 64, who was laid off the force during the financial woes of the 1970s and was attending yesterday’s ceremony to honor his youngest son, Russell, who became his fourth son to join the force.

Through Mr. John said he did not boo the mayor, he said the recent warnings about police layoffs were like “flashbacks” for him.

“I hope the city doesn’t make the same mistake, because you can never recover from that,” he said.

Other audience members said the booing was a result of the mayor’s property tax increase or his plans to abolish community school boards.

One former mayor, Ed Koch called the booing “much ado about nothing” and said it did not signify a change in the public’s attitude toward Mr. Bloomberg.

“This is not the Roman Forum where they’re throwing the mayor to the lions,” said Mr. Koch. “It happened to me at a firefighters’ ceremony, so it’s not unique. Sometimes you’ve got to have a thick skin.

Another former mayor, David Dinkins, was booed at the police academy graduation in 1993, while Rudolph Giuliani faced booing crowds at the same event in 1997.

Despite the cries of disapproval, Mr. Bloomberg praised the academy graduates and the Police Department, calling it “the most storied law enforcement agency in the world.”

At a press conference later in the day, Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged, “there were a handful of people who weren’t thrilled at Madison Square Garden.

“You can’t worry about that,” the mayor said. “You have to do what is right.”

Police officials said this year’s graduating Police Academy class is among the most educated and ethnically diverse in the department’s history: About 25% of the class is Hispanic, 18% is black, 52% is white, and 5% is Asian.

Many of the 2,108 graduates are abandoning other professions in favor of police work: The recruits include at least one airline pilot, and optometrist, three attorneys, 13 paralegals, 40 schoolteachers, 33 corrections officers, 20 emergency medical technicians, two nurses, a mechanic, and a funeral director.

The graduates were presented with service weapons over the weekend, according to the commanding officer of the Police Academy, Deputy Chief Diana Pizzuti.

Many gained real-world experience preparing for the abortive transit strike in December, while others worked at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Kelly said.

Unarmed at the time, several of the graduates made arrests for grand larceny and assault.

Though this year’s class packed the arena at Madison Square Garden, next year’s class could include only 500 recruits, depending on how many police officers quit or retire in the interim.