There is an old maxim that goes: “When your opponent is drowning, throw him a brick.”
In New York City in 2023, where most felonies remain stubbornly up over the past two years and voters continue to rank crime as their top concern, the NYPD is struggling to keep its head above water. And its primary brick-throwing opponents are those who are supposed to be helping it stay afloat: the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.
The NYPD is in the grips of a staffing crisis that has left it 2,500 cops short of its 2019 headcount. That short staffing, combined with unprecedented deployments to the subways and elsewhere, has sent overtime through the roof. After months of this crushing workload, cops are disgruntled and burned-out. More and more are being lured away by the promise of better pay, superior benefits and less punishing working conditions in other police departments.
As the exodus continues, the burden grows heavier for the remaining cops. 911 response times keep rising. Serious crime rates remain unacceptably high. And yet City Council members continue to lob bricks in the form of unnecessary new measures to scrutinize and penalize cops.
For well over a decade now, the anti-cop caucus in New York has piled on dozens or perhaps hundreds of so-called “police reform” bills. Have they paused to assess what this mountain of mandates and prohibitions has actually accomplished? Have they analyzed how many are justified by more than a single incident or the demands of some activist group? Have they considered the impact that the constant dunning of police officers is having on public safety?
Clearly they haven’t, because today the Public Safety Committee will consider another raft of bills that would deal a massive blow to police officers’ morale. One bill would give the Civilian Complaint Review Board direct and unfettered access to every police officers’ body-worn camera video. CCRB already has access upon request to footage relevant to specific investigations. Now CCRB wants to search and review any video, any time it wants. CCRB claims that this access will help speed up its investigations. But it will also help it weaponize its new power to launch investigations against cops even when no civilian complaint has been filed.
But now, CCRB doesn’t think it should even need to explain itself to a judge. If someone proposed opening up the sealed records of other New Yorkers without judicial review, there would be an uproar in the City Council. But because it is police officers’ rights being trampled in this case, some Council members are all too eager to lend a hand.
The Public Safety Committee has long since abandoned the “public safety” part of its name. It is now more interested in berating NYPD officials in front of a camera than in serious policy discussions.
Who is the audience for this anti-police grandstanding? It certainly isn’t their constituents. Visit any Community Board or precinct community council in the city — you won’t hear anyone demanding a CCRB with Orwellian powers. What you’ll hear is “We need the police, and we don’t have enough of them.”
The backlash against the “Defund the Police” movement — here and around the country — shows where the public stands on the necessity of police officers and the work we do. But the public also needs to realize that the “Defund” goal is being accomplished without the slogan, through a flurry of bills that add up to a crippling drag on police officers.
We need them to call their Council members and demand a “Public Safety Pause” — a moratorium on any new measures that burden police officers until they have assessed the necessity and efficacy of those already in place.
We have no illusion that the Council is going to throw us a lifeline. But please, ask them to stop heaving bricks at us.
New York City police officers are acutely aware that our every action is being recorded and could become evidence. But if this bill passes, we will face the prospect of boundless surveillance by an activist CCRB hunting for minor infractions to boost its case numbers.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the committee is considering another demoralizing bill that would leave cops with fewer rights than the criminals we police. This bill calls for CCRB to gain access to sealed court records, including records of trials that end in acquittal. Such records are normally only available — even to law enforcement — if a court orders them unsealed. CCRB recently obtained such an order in its third-bite-at-the-apple case against a police officer who has already been acquitted by a jury and cleared by a previous NYPD investigation.