New York Mayor Bill de Blasio faced new criticism from rank-and-file police officers and their families Monday, as he spoke at a graduation ceremony for new officers.
Sometimes the audience applauded politely. But news reports also recounted some boos, heckles, and a few people standing with their backs turned toward the mayor.
Mr. de Blasio has called for reforms to improve relations between the police and racial minorities in the metropolis.
That goal is now overshadowed by an open rift, as many in the force say the mayor’s public views are partly to blame for the recent killings of two NYPD officers by a man claiming the act was retaliation against cases of black civilians dying at the hands of police.
Can the divide be bridged?
It doesn’t look like an easy or quick task. The mayor and city police are at odds over whether de Blasio’s call for a focus on race relations is making beat cops’ dangerous job even riskier, but they’re also in conflict over other issues, including union contract bargaining.
The cool reception at the Monday graduation event comes just days after hundreds of officers turned their backs to a video monitor outside a Queens church as de Blasio spoke at the funeral of slain officer Rafael Ramos.
Yet repairing relations isn’t impossible either. And one encouraging sign is simply that both the mayor and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton both seem focused on the task. De Blasio has been visiting the families of the slain officers and speaking at events such as the funeral and the graduation. And Bratton has been trying to dampen the tone of animosity from within police ranks.
“Mayor de Blasio is totally supportive of his personnel, this department,” Commissioner Bratton said Sunday on the CBS show "Face the Nation."
De Blasio has drawn the ire of cops by seeming at times to be more aligned with protesters, they say, than with officers in blue.
After a grand jury decided not to indict an officer in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner, a black man being arrested for illegal cigarette sales, the mayor said it was a decision that “many in our city did not want.”
De Blasio linked the news to his larger quest for reforms, saying that “The problem of police-community relations and civil rights is not just an issue for people of color – or young people – or people who get stopped by police. This is a fundamental issue for every American who cares about justice."
And the mayor has talked about his personal experience cautioning his own son, who is half-black, about contact with police.
When the two NYPD officers were shot dead Dec. 20 by a man who cited Garner as one of his motivations, the leader of one police union talked of "blood on the hands" of the mayor for fostering an atmosphere of anger toward police.
Now de Blasio is trying to mend fences while still nurturing the reform goals that he brought Bratton back to New York to implement.
He recently praised Bratton and the force for dramatically scaling back controversial “stop-and-frisk” methods and low-level marijuana arrests, and for launching new training designed to improve community relations.
At the same time, the mayor on Monday praised the NYPD for bringing crime rates down dramatically – a trend that is continuing with a 5 percent drop this year. He called it the “finest police department in the world” and said “it’s our job to protect you” such as by investing in training.
As Bratton works with de Blasio works on the difficult task of building trust, the police chief walks a fine line in showing both support for his boss and understanding of his patrol officers’ concerns.
Bratton acknowledged in his CBS appearance that “morale in the department at this time is low…. There`s a lot going on that is particular to New York City, that is separate and apart from the national discussions around issues of race and police.”
But the commissioner also called it inappropriate for officers to bring politics to the Ramos funeral by turning their backs.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.