Get a link in your mailbox to your weekly NYPD Confidential column as soon as it is published! Click on the button above right on this page — or here — to sign up for this feature.
Politics and the NYPD: A Bad Mix
November 28, 2016
The NYPD is being sucked into a war between Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo — a war in which the department does not belong.
The two have been feuding since de Blasio became mayor in 2014. With Hillary Clinton’s defeat, the mayor and the governor are fighting over the direction of the Democratic Party and whether one of them might eventually lead it.
Earlier this year Cuomo announced he would station 300 state troopers in New York City. What purpose they will serve, other than to undercut de Blasio, is unclear as the NYPD has 36,000 cops and crime is at record lows. The governor justified the move by saying they were there to fight terrorism, although, in contrast to the state police, the NYPD has a large and experienced counter-terrorism unit.
Following Donald Trump’s election and a subsequent increase in hate-crimes, Cuomo announced a state police-directed hate-crime unit, although the majority of hate crimes occur in New York City and the NYPD has a longstanding bias unit.
Last week, with Police Commissioner James O'Neill and top police brass beside him, the mayor held a news conference to embarrass Cuomo into passing legislation to outlaw cars with tinted windows. Cuomo had vetoed similar legislation in 2012.
“MAYOR DE BLASIO AND POLICE COMMISSIONER O’NEILL JOIN FORCES …TO URGE GOV. CUOMO TO SIGN LEGISLATION TO PROTECT LAW ENFORCEMENT AND TAKE ILLEGAL VEHICLES OFF THE ROAD,” read a mayoral press release. The mayor explained that in 2007 two cops had been gunned down by someone inside a car with tinted windows. Those windows had obscured the cops’ vision, the mayor said.
O’Neill followed de Blasio’s lead. “It’s an important press conference,” he said. “This legislation is about keeping cops safe.”
Cuomo’s press secretary, Dani Lever, said, “We intended to sign this legislation and would have been glad to tell the city if they'd just asked us — no need to grandstand.”
Silence from Dani on why Cuomo vetoed the earlier legislation.
O’Neill is both honest and humble. At the Columbus Day parade, he marched with cops, not with dignitaries. A former top PBA official, referring to the respected former chief of department, described him as “an Irish Joe Esposito.”
But O’Neill has been commissioner for only two months and lacks the political gravitas of his predecessor, Bill Bratton, to push back against de Blasio, especially as the mayor is up for re-election. No doubt aware the mayor is dependent on black voter support, O’Neill last month was quick to suspend a white sergeant who fatally shot an emotionally disturbed black woman who police say charged at him with a baseball bat. He did so before the department’s internal investigation was completed. O’Neill — and more loudly de Blasio — faulted the sergeant for not following protocol by using a Taser, or stun gun, instead of his weapon.
The following week, another sergeant fired a Taser at an emotionally disturbed black man who police say charged at him with a bottle. The man died.
"One of the challenges Commissioner O'Neill faces is to steer clear of politics, whether it is the feud between the mayor and the governor or anything else,” says Chris Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “Only bad things happen when the NYPD gets dragged into politics."