This week in NYC, we saw anarchy in its infancy. NYC police officers in uniform were doused with water by several men while on duty on West 116 Street in Harlem. One incident in Manhattan showed cops hit with water and subsequently also a bucket, while they were in the process of making an unrelated arrest. In the Brooklyn assault, police officers were drenched with water while walking down the street. The officers did not retaliate or protest against these actions in any way. They simply continued to walk on their way back to their police cars.
Some people have called these cops cowardly and shameful, and Chief of Department Terence Monahan has declared that, “Any cop who thinks that that’s all right, that they can walk away from something like that, maybe should reconsider whether or not this is the profession for them”. While another senior NYPD official told CNN that, the police involved in the videos “should have taken action and they’ll be reprimanded for not doing so.”
Although I have to agree that being a police officer is not for everyone, based on my professional experience in the Department of Corrections and my knowledge of the Police Department, my own opinion on this incident is that it is the law enforcement policies coming out of City Hall that are cowardly and shameful.
These assaults are the result of a lack of respect and the loss of authority resulting from failed policing policies that demonize police and create a work environment where taking action brings a plethora of potential problems. Inaction, such as what we saw in these incidents, although detrimental to law and order, is sometimes more advantageous to the individual police officer.
Let me be very clear, the police officers involved should have arrested those responsible, and not making those arrests will undermine citizen’s confidence in police protection. However, I have to disagree with blaming the police officers involved.
NYC police officers are a representation of New York City. In general, the police officers reflect the strength and authority of the principality they work for. City Hall does not support law enforcement and New Yorkers know that. As a result, some New Yorkers that encounter police behave in a disrespectful manner because of the anti-police rhetoric and policies that emanate from City Hall.
In addition, there are numerous mitigating circumstances that will determine what action police officers take. Based on what I know of the system, I would speculate that in the Brooklyn incident the police officers were on a probationary status, meaning that they don’t have due process rights and can be fired at will without a departmental hearing. This alone is a major factor in whether or not to take action, especially under an anti-police political climate. Today more than ever, departmental charges, suspension, termination, criminal liability and civil liability loom over every police officer in this city. Cell phone videos capture everything. Anytime a police officer takes action there is always a potential for the escalation of hostilities, and many times the video will only show the officer’s conduct and not what preceded the incident. In addition, we must keep in mind that police officers are trained and instructed to de-escalate confrontations, and that unfortunately, they have to take some level of harassment.
Although arrests should have been made immediately by the officers involved, I blame the assaults directly on the perpetrators and indirectly on the anti-police policy and rhetoric from City Hall. This opinion is validated by the fact that subsequently three arrests for assault/criminal mischief were made, but only after the videos of the officers being humiliated and attacked, had gone viral.