“Morale is at an all-time low,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch declared at a press conference March 15. “It was on a steady decline and now it’s rock-bottom.”
The union leader had evidence to back up that claim: a survey to which a quarter of the PBA’s 24,000 members responded. The officers ranked their morale at 2.45 on a scale of 10.
‘Want to Be Respected’
“We want to be respected for the job that we do,” Mr. Lynch said.
With an unusual degree of unanimity, the cops declared that they don’t approve of Mayor de Blasio’s job performance (96 percent) or the City Council’s (97 percent).
They showed a great deal of animus for Mr. de Blasio. The officers who responded believe he has created an environment in which criminals feel emboldened (97 percent) and an atmosphere that is “combative” toward police (95 percent). Ninety-five percent said they felt less safe while working, and 87 percent said the city was more dangerous than under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Ninety-seven percent said police officers were reluctant to take action for fear of lawsuits or civilian complaints, and 96 percent agreed that suspects were more likely to resist arrest.
Not Much to Like
|SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE: John McLaughlin, head of the research company that handled the survey, said, ‘These are stunning numbers.’ He was referring both to the fact that a quarter of the PBA’s 24,000 members responded—an unusually high number—and to the unanimity of the responses. Among the findings were that 97 percent said fear of lawsuits or disciplinary consequences made officers hesitant to take enforcement action and 86 percent said they would not advise relatives to join the NYPD.|
Ninety-two percent said support for the police has decreased under Mr. de Blasio, who took office at the start of 2014. Asked what they liked best about the Mayor, 62 percent responded, “Nothing.”
“These are stunning numbers,” said John McLaughlin, CEO of McLaughlin & Associates, the research company that handled the survey for the PBA.
Mr. Lynch said he hoped the survey, the first ever done by the PBA, would open up a dialogue with Mr. de Blasio and the NYPD high command. “This is an opportunity to solve the problem,” he said, adding, “It’s not just the unions yelling. It’s the members speaking.”
But initial reactions were not encouraging. Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, responding after news reports of the survey but before the press conference, scoffed at the findings. Mr. de Blasio questioned the legitimacy of the poll, and Mr. Bratton said cops were always complaining about something.
Any Pal of Al…
Mr. de Blasio has had a fraught relationship with the NYPD, going back to the early days of his term when he was solicitous of the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom most cops look upon with disdain.
They remember after the death of Eric Garner when Mr. de Blasio put Mr. Bratton on one side of him and Mr. Sharpton on the other side for a discussion at City Hall. Mr. Sharpton threatened to withdraw his political support of the Mayor and demanded the prosecution of cops, saying, “The best way to stop police from using illegal chokeholds is to perp-walk one of those that did.”
Officers were insulted by Mr. de Blasio’s remarks after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a police officer in Mr. Garner’s death. He described how he warned his teenage son Dante to be careful how he behaved if stopped by police. They felt the Mayor, in focusing on instructions that are common in families with children of color, was using the occasion to tarnish all cops with a broad brush.
After Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were assassinated by a mentally-disturbed ex-con who said he was taking revenge for Mr. Garner, officers at both funerals turned their backs as the Mayor spoke. Mr. Lynch and Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward D. Mullins said hours after the murders that Mr. de Blasio had “blood on the hands.”
Tried to Calm Waters
Tensions eased after Mr. de Blasio moderated his rhetoric and spoke out in favor of issues of concern to police officers, such as the Law Department’s practice of settling misconduct lawsuits against officers rather than taking them to trial.
In the survey, two-thirds of cops said they approved of Mr. Bratton’s job performance, but only half agreed that he represented “the best interest of New York City police officers.”
Similarly, a majority of PBA members feel that direct supervisors and higher-ranking bosses such as precinct commanders do not represent the best interests of officers. Sixty-one percent felt that way about direct supervisors and 69 percent felt that way about those in the higher ranks.
Eighty-nine percent disagreed with the statement, “NYPD supervisors do not impose quotas for police activity.” Both quotas themselves and the use of disciplinary action to enforce them violate state law, and Mr. Bratton has said he is interested in quality, not quantity, regarding arrests and summonses.
Mr. Bloomberg’s Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, focused heavily on statistics showing crime and police officers’ activity.
There are frequent indications that this attitude persists in mid-level bosses, the most recent being a New York Times article about an officer denied promotion to Sergeant because commanders felt he was not making enough arrests and issuing too few summonses.
A huge majority of officers—86 percent—said they were less likely to recommend that their children or other relatives join the NYPD. Eighty-nine percent said they would leave the NYPD for a better-paying law-enforcement job, and 85 percent said they would leave the New York City area for such a job.
Asked to choose a single change that would improve their lives and working conditions, 35 percent chose a raise in pay—way ahead of other choices such as changes in hours for tours, more respect and better training and equipment.
The PBA last year rejected Mr. de Blasio’s pattern for uniformed-union raises of 11 percent over 7 years, only to be bitterly disappointed when an arbitrator awarded 1 percent a year over a two-year period. The arbitrator, Howard C. Edelman, said it matched what unions representing higher-ranking officers received in pattern bargaining for a similar two-year period.
Mr. Lynch called the award “an insult” and accused Mr. Edelman of shading his decision in order to attract more work from the city. Ninety-nine percent of the survey respondents said the award was not “just and reasonable.”
‘Lowest-Paid in Country’
“We’re the lowest-paid police officers in the country,” Mr. Lynch said at the press conference.
Ninety-six percent of officers said the relationship between police and the public has worsened in recent years. This directly contradicted Mr. de Blasio’s mantra whenever he talks about the NYPD, which goes: (1) Mr. Bratton is the nation’s best police executive; (2) the department is doing a bang-up job fighting crime; and (3) the end of aggressive stop-and-frisk has brought officers and communities closer.
Eighty-one percent of officers agreed that the new stop-and-frisk procedures, which are still being phased in, “limit police officers’ ability to safely and effectively make stops when necessary.”
The procedures include more specific reporting requirements, keener oversight by supervisors and rules meant to adhere to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that officers must have an indication that the person they stop is involved in a crime.
“I’m not surprised by it,” Mr. Bratton said of the survey, pointing to a similar one the NYPD conducted in 2014 that found similar concerns. “I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and cops have been complaining about low morale at every place I’ve ever worked.”
‘So Much About Pay’
He added, “Cops have never been happy about the pay, and so much of this is about pay.”
Mr. de Blasio said, “I don’t put a lot of stock in that survey. It certainly is not a survey of a majority of our officers. I don’t know who did the survey. I don’t know which officers they chose to talk to. But I can tell you this much, the men and women of the NYPD are doing their job and doing it really, really well…Unfortunately a lot of what I hear from the PBA is complaints, not constructive suggestions, or an effort to work for the betterment of all.”
Mr. Lynch said that the PBA sent notices of the survey to the 12,000 members for whom it had e-mail addresses, and that delegates informed others at roll calls and announcements.
He said the methodology of the survey, in which members decided whether to respond rather than being chosen randomly as in a poll, was the exact same as that used by the NYPD in its 2014 survey, which was never released to the public.
Mayor: ‘Highly Suspect’
Mr. de Blasio’s Deputy Press Secretary, Monica Klein, said in an e-mail that the survey’s findings are “highly suspect and fly in the face of the facts. We are experiencing historic lows in criminal activity. Murders and shootings are at their lowest in modern history. NYPD is the most effective police force in the country thanks to our officers’ dedication and commitment to their job.”
The NYPD announced in January that serious crime fell 5.8 percent during the first two years of Mr. de Blasio’s term, 2014 and 2015. The budget for the current fiscal year added 1,300 new officers—the first time headcount grew since 2001—and made provisions for new bulletproof vests, smartphones and improvements in training.
Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Bratton and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whom 85 percent of the officers rated unfavorably, talked about new equipment given to officers, including smartphones and replacement bulletproof vests.
“We need to not just throw gadgets at them,” Mr. Lynch said at the press conference. “...Quite frankly, to give us a bullet-resistant vest is a moral obligation…it doesn’t affect our morale. How you affect the morale of New York City police officers is you pay them as professionals, you treat them as professionals, you defend them as professionals.”
The PBA’s announcement about the poll and the answers to each question can be found at https://goo.gl/vWHsDk.