Wall Street Journal

Aug. 1, 2016 9:09 p.m. ET


New York City Police Vent Frustrations at Mayor de Blasio

Union that represents officers to demonstrate for better pay and benefits; mayor stands on his record

By JOSH DAWSEY

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, in March at the Police Academy in Queens.  PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

New York City police officers are planning to begin protests outside Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Brooklyn gym and Upper East Side home this week, as they try to highlight frustrations with City Hall and what they see as the mayor’s lackadaisical work ethic.

Whether the demonstrations will have any effect on Mr. de Blasio’s re-election remains unclear, as crime hovers near record lows in the city. Some say the moves could backfire, particularly in a Democratic primary where many voters say police need more accountability.

Mr. de Blasio won his 2013 election by promising to change the force’s tactics. Crime has dropped while he has fulfilled his promise to sharply curtail stop-and-frisks.

The gym has become an unlikely flashpoint for Mr. de Blasio. Some aides have discouraged the mayor’s daily trip from Gracie Mansion, the Upper East Side, to Brooklyn, and he has been criticized for the midmorning workout. But the mayor said last week in Philadelphia that the gym centered him and reminded him of his roots, and he liked being back in his old neighborhood daily. Aides to Mr. de Blasio say he does his work for the city at all times of the day.

“We know he’s not at City Hall and he’s moseying around the Park Slope Y, so we have to go where he is so he’ll hear our frustrations,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Mr. de Blasio has long struggled with the police union; thousands of officers turned their backs on Mr. de Blasio at a funeral after two officers were killed in 2014, and Mr. Lynch at the time said the mayor “had blood on his hands.” The mayor’s office responded by calling the remark “irresponsible overheated rhetoric.”

Polls found most New Yorkers believed the union overplayed its hand.

“To be quite honest, the de Blasio supporters are not necessarily PBA supporters. So I don’t know that it hurts him at all,” said Christina Greer, a political scientist at Fordham University. “He knows there are a lot of voters who didn’t back him in the beginning, and he knows they aren’t going to back him now.”

Mr. Lynch said the protests are a “huge vulnerability” for Mr. de Blasio and that an internal poll showed at least 90% of his members don’t like the mayor. “Regardless of what party you’re registered, you want to be safe on the street,” Mr. Lynch said. “Even though the headlines and the press releases from City Hall say one thing, people on the street are feeling another thing.”

A de Blasio spokesman, Eric Phillips, said the mayor stands firmly on his accomplishments. “Under this mayor, crime has fallen to record lows, 1,300 more cops are on the street, and we’ve invested $320 million more in officer safety and equipment,” Mr. Phillips said in an email. “We are willing to talk about this every day—at the gym or anywhere else.”

On Monday, a Quinnipiac poll showed 42% of voters believe Mr. de Blasio is handling policing well, while 49% say he isn’t. And 37% say Mr. de Blasio is handling relations between the police and community well, while 55% say he isn’t.

The union has a history of large, raucous protests. Officers protested outside the Upper East Side townhouse of Mayor Michael Bloomberg as they sought a new contract. In 1992, when David Dinkins was mayor, thousands of off-duty officers surrounded City Hall to protest additional oversight, knocking barricades over and blocking traffic in a scene that became chaotic. Mr. de Blasio worked for Mr. Dinkins.

“It was really ugly,” said Norman Steisel, a deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration.

Mr. Steisel said the protests likely damaged Mr. Dinkins, who served one term before being defeated by Rudy Giuliani, and that there were some parallels with Mr. de Blasio. “There was widespread dissatisfaction even as we were trying to make the police department better.”

Eugene O’Donnell, an expert on policing at the City University of New York and a former police officer, said officers knew they weren’t getting a higher raise.

“The police are always up in arms, but they’re especially up in arms now,” he said. “The tools are limited because they can’t strike. If they could strike, they’d be on strike now. They’ll do anything they can to damage him.”

Write to Josh Dawsey at Joshua.Dawsey@dowjones.com