Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 4, 2015
7:51 p.m. ET


Police Rift Grows for New York City Mayor

 

Many Officers Again Turn Their Backs on Bill de Blasio at Slain Colleague’s Funeral

By MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Pei Xia Chen, center, widow of New York Police Department officer Wenjian Liu weeps as she holds a photo of her husband during his funeral in Brooklyn on Sunday. See other photos of the wake and funeral by clicking here.

NEW YORK—Hundreds of police officers again turned their backs as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke Sunday at a funeral for a slain officer, demonstrating the challenge the mayor faces in healing a rift with the nation’s largest police force.

The officers were among thousands who came out on a rainy day in Brooklyn for the funeral of Officer Wenjian Liu, 32 years old, who was fatally shot in his patrol car on Dec. 20 with his partner, Officer Rafael Ramos, 40. The accused gunman, who cited the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, killed himself.

Officers also turned around when Mr. de Blasio spoke at the Dec. 27 funeral of Officer Ramos.

With the officers’ funerals over, attention now will turn to whether the mayor and the city’s police unions can work out differences that have spilled into public view in recent weeks. There also is the matter of unresolved pay and benefit negotiations; New York City Police Department officers have been working without contracts since 2010.

Mr. de Blasio told union officials in a closed-door meeting last week that they had plenty of common ground. Union officials, however, said there was no resolution to the continuing hostilities.

“As far as any type of a fix is concerned between City Hall and the members of the NYPD, that challenge falls squarely on the shoulders of the mayor,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, a police union. “Words alone won’t heal the wounds.”

Mr. de Blasio has leaned on his police commissioner, William Bratton, to handle public commentary since the officers’ deaths. The mayor hasn’t taken questions for two weeks.

The officers’ back turning may have showed the limits of Mr. Bratton’s sway. He had asked the force of about 35,000 on Friday in a memo not to show disrespect to the mayor, saying it distracted attention from the memories of the slain officers.

“I issue no mandates, and I make no threats of discipline, but I remind you that when you don the uniform of this department, you are bound by the tradition, honor and decency that go with it,” Mr. Bratton wrote.

Nonetheless, officers turned their backs en masse on Sunday. Some said their action was about more than the mayor and his support.

“Politics is to blame, and I did turn my back out of disgust on how the country feels about cops,” said an NYPD lieutenant with 18 years on the force.

The officers’ action reflected growing anger with a mayor who said he has counseled his biracial son to be careful during encounters with police, has allied himself with a police critic, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and has backed protesters rallying against grand-jury decisions not to indict officers in the 2014 deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri.

“Police officers feel like they were turned upon by City Hall, and we have a right to express our opinion as well, as they did respectfully,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union.

He said the back-turning was “an organic gesture that started on the streets of New York.”

The mayor might need help from other New York leaders, such as Sen. Charles Schumer, to bring about a contract settlement, said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College.

A broader resolution to the tensions between the mayor and the NYPD would have to include a way for Mr. Lynch to maintain credibility with officers, Mr. Sherrill said. “They have to find some kind of face-saving way for Lynch to turn the temperature down,” he said.

In his eulogy for Officer Liu on Sunday, Mr. de Blasio acknowledged the divisions in the city and asked for a renewed effort at “mutual understanding.”

“Let us move forward by strengthening the bonds that unite and working together to obtain peace,” Mr. de Blasio said.

A spokesman for the mayor said: “Our city and this administration are focused on doing everything possible to support the grieving families of our fallen heroes.”

The stakes are high for Mr. de Blasio, a liberal who has made law-enforcement strategy a centerpiece of his mayoralty. Any moves he makes to work with police unions will likely take place as protesters renew their efforts to highlight alleged police abuses.

The mayor also faces pressure from supporters, such as Mr. Sharpton, to abandon or sharply reduce the NYPD’s adherence to the so-called broken windows philosophy of policing in which low-level offenses are aggressively pursued in the hopes of deterring more significant ones.

Mr. de Blasio told union officials last week that he had no plans to yield on broken windows, according to a person familiar with what the mayor said.

The fight also takes place during a period of a record low in homicides in New York City. Just 332 people were killed in the city in 2014, down from the previous record of 335 set in 2013. That compares with more than 2,200 in 1992.

—Adam Janos, Mara Gay and Thomas MacMillan contributed to this article.

Write to Mara Gay at mara.gay@wsj.com