Wall Street Journal
Dec. 21, 2014 1:25 a.m.

New York Shootings Come at Difficult Moment for Mayor, Police Department


Police Union Lobs Blame at de Blasio


Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, speaks during a news conference Saturday.

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s already fraught relationship with the New York Police Department suffered another blow on Saturday night, as the city’s biggest police union lobbed blame at the mayor after two officers were fatally shot.

The killings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were sitting inside a marked car when they were shot in broad daylight, shocked the city and marked the first on-duty deaths of a police officer since 2011.

Police said they are investigating social-media postings in which the alleged gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, suggests he is going to kill police officers in retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, unarmed black men who died in violent confrontations with police.

Mr. de Blasio had tried to strike a conciliatory tone with protesters after a grand jury declined to indict an officer involved in Mr. Garner’s death on Staten Island, in hopes of avoiding the violence seen in Ferguson, Mo., after Mr. Brown died. But police unions interpreted the rhetoric as a lack of support.

Within hours of the deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu, union leaders appeared to be gearing up for a fight outside the hospital where doctors tried to save the officers.

“That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor,” said Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, at a news conference.

Former police officials took to cable TV, calling for the mayor to resign. State Sen. Dean Skelos, the New York State Legislature’s leading Republican, and former Gov. George Pataki blamed the city’s politicians.

“Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio. #NYPD,” Mr. Pataki tweeted on Saturday night.

The mayor has repeatedly called for demonstrators to be peaceful and also has made statements in support of the police.

“It’s unfortunate that in a time of great tragedy, some would resort to irresponsible, overheated rhetoric that angers and divides people,” the mayor’s press secretary, Phil Walzak, said on Saturday.

The night showed how the relationship between the police and City Hall had soured since Mr. de Blasio took office in January. The tensions with police are a departure after 20 years under the administrations of Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, said several political observers.

At the core of Mr. de Blasio’s campaign was reversing the tension over stop-and-frisk policies in Mr. Bloomberg’s administration. However, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday, 56% of New Yorkers say they don’t approve of Mr. de Blasio’s handling of police-community relations.

Even as the mayor has made progress in some of his goals—from enacting universal pre-kindergarten to beginning new affordable housing developments—his relationship with police has worsened.

“You haven’t really seen it like this since the David Dinkins era,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at Hunter College.

At a news conference with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, Mr. de Blasio, appearing shaken, was quick to praise the NYPD. He often deferred to Mr. Bratton, who talked in poignant terms about the deaths. Lost in much of the debate: The killer was from out of state, crime in New York City has dropped to historically low levels and Mr. de Blasio has frequently praised officers.

The mayor was quick to bat down political questions. “I don’t think it’s a time for politics or political analysis,” he said.

Still, the police commissioner seemed to strike a note Mr. de Blasio hasn’t, saying an “anti-police” sentiment had grown across the country in recent weeks. “Let’s face it, there’s been not just in New York, but throughout the country, a very strong anti-police, anti-criminal-justice system, anti-societal set of initiatives under way,” Mr. Bratton said.

The mayor’s relationship with the police worsened this summer in the wake of Mr. Garner’s death, after Mr. de Blasio sat quietly by while civil-rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton criticized Mr. Bratton as all three men sat on a dais together.

Rank-and-file officers have chafed at several of the mayor’s comments in recent weeks as protests have spiraled across the U.S. As police officers have been assaulted in recent weeks during protests that have at times closed bridges and roads, police have become increasingly angry.

Police unions have particularly blasted the mayor’s relationship with Rev. Sharpton, who declined to be interviewed Saturday night but promised to speak Sunday morning in Harlem.

A spokesman for the mayor didn’t immediately respond to questions about how Mr. de Blasio would spend the coming days, but he is likely to face a delicate balance.

Attending the funerals of the officers could prove tricky—earlier this month, the union posted a form on its website encouraging officers to call for Mr. de Blasio to not attend their funerals should they die. That drew cries of outrage from Mr. de Blasio and his supporters.

His administration is in tense arbitration proceedings with the union over a contract. His foes are likely to ratchet up criticism, and the perception—whether founded or not—that he is weak on public safety could grow.

“He’s going to have to let some of the usual suspects decry the criticism that’s coming at him,” Mr. Sherrill said.

The unions had allowed their grief to inspire a response that seemed too explosive, Mr. Sherrill said. He said Mr. Bratton and Mr. de Blasio struck the right notes Saturday night.

—Sonja Sharp and Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this article.

Write to Josh Dawsey at joshua.dawsey@wsj.com