Using high praise and low crime statistics, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to defuse the recent discord between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and his administration at a news conference on Monday, calling the city’s 35,000 officers "the world's greatest police department” and giving them credit for a "record-setting reduction" in major crime.
De Blasio spoke from NYPD headquarters just a day after hundreds of officers again turned their backs on him as he delivered the eulogy for Wenjian Liu, who was killed with his partner, Rafael Ramos, on Dec. 20 by a man who had made hate-filled anti-police comments on social media. The silent protests by the police are a reaction to what many of them say is de Blasio’s sympathy for critics of the NYPD.
After weeks of protests and counter-protests, de Blasio pleaded at the press conference for more cooperation and a "positive vision" for the city. "Rather than get lost in the daily back-and-forth by the loudest and most disrespectful voices ... let’s talk about where we need to go as a city. Let’s talk about a positive vision, let’s talk about what the people of this city want us to do together," de Blasio said. “I’ll tell you. This is the vision I think we will see play out in the near future in New York City."
De Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also used the event to showcase the NYPD’s work. They announced that 2014 saw the lowest number of murders, 332, recorded in the city’s history. The previous lowest number on record was in 2013, when there were 335 murders. The mayor also said that major crime had dropped by 4.6 percent, and he announced that the city saw its lowest murder, robbery and burglary rates in the past 10 years.
"This is the world’s greatest police department,” de Blasio said. “There’s no doubt about it. I’ve said it many times. I never have any fear of contradiction when I say that statement. It is the world’s greatest police department."
While de Blasio may want to move past the bitterness of the last few weeks, it will not be easy. The New York Times on Monday published statistics that showed an over 50 percent decline in arrests in the past week as compared to the same period of time one year ago — 2,401 arrests across the city, compared to 5,448.
Criminal summonses in that same timespan plummeted even more dramatically, to 347 in the past seven days ending Sunday compared to 4,077 a year ago. The issuance of traffic and parking tickets were also down about 90 percent, the newspaper reported.
Last week, the New York Post highlighted statistics that showed arrests and summonses had dropped off significantly in the period from Dec. 22 to Dec. 27, compared to same timeframe a year earlier. The numbers showed that police had made 66 percent fewer arrests, as well as over 90 percent fewer criminal court summonses and summonses for traffic violations.
The NYPD confirmed to Al Jazeera that numbers cited by both the Times and the Post are accurate, but the police department has not acknowledged publicly that the decline in arrests and summons is intentional. Critics of the NYPD have accused them of engaging in a coordinated work slowdown, but police union leaders have denied that.
Even before Liu and Ramos were killed, tensions had been running high between the mayor's office and the police. In July, a grand jury declined to indict a police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an African-American man accused of selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island. In response to protests over Garner’s death, De Blasio invoked his son Dante, who is half black. "I've had to worry over the years, [de Blasio's wife] Chirlane has had to worry: Is Dante safe each night?" de Blasio said, while adding that the danger was posed by both criminals and "the very people they (children) want to have faith in as their protectors."
The remarks were immediately condemned by the leadership of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), the largest union representing the NYPD. It’s president, Patrick Lynch, said many officers in the department felt they were "thrown under the bus."
"We shouldn't be teaching our children that we should be afraid of New York City police officers," Lynch said. "We are the ones who are protecting our children. Your children."
The killings of the officers comes at a time of widespread protests across the United States over what activists say is excessive use of force by police departments against minorities.
With wire services