As former counsel to a prominent police union, and as the recipient of an award for my services to police labour efforts, I feel that I need to comment on the recent efforts made by the police unions representing police officers at NYPD. First, I will reaffirm my extraordinary respect for most police officers: I have seen first-hand the difficulties of police in both attempting to protect the public, as well as to maintain respect from the public and — as members of unions — the management of police agencies. There are incredible demands placed upon these women and men.
That being said, and without treading into the recent, serious human rights issues arising from allegations of improper use of force against members of minority communities. One issue arose from a videotaped death of an innocent black male at the hands of an member of NYPD in Brooklyn. NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio addressed these issues in sensitive fashion — recognizing the potential abuse of minority rights. In other words, he did not simply blow the normal horn that is protective of police actions — even bad police actions.
I am extremely troubled by the NYPD police union’s attacks on Mayor DeBlasio — both from a reality-based and a political direction. First, it is extremely poor politics for the union to attack a mayor who has traditionally been extremely supportive of labour rights. Effectively, the union has turned against perhaps its strongest government advocate. Why? In order to protest DeBlasio’s failure to stand by a cop who — on videotape — appeared to clearly abuse his authority by continuing to pummel, to death, a prone black male?
This then segues into the interrelated second issue — the reality of the situation. Although there may have been occasions to question some union “PR — public relations” moves, I do not recall my Florida-based police union ever standing up for a member — in the media — who appears to clearly violate the standards for use of force. Certainly, the union is required to protect its members when they are subject to administrative discipline and/or criminal prosecution. However, it is unfathomable for a union to publicly attack — viciously and repeatedly — a public official (and one traditionally viewed as a supporter of police union rights and issues) who refuses to simply tow a political line under circumstances where there is nothing to tow.
As a result, the head of the NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a branch affiliated with my former client-union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, has squandered its relationship with both City Hall and the public. The NYPD PBA has — in the long-term — undermined its strength by choosing to pursue a questionable and dubious public relations strategy. By doing so, I believe that it has not strengthened the union, but undermined it, its members, and other police unions through the United States. In the meantime, Mayor DeBlasio should arise from this fight with his honour and political standing well-intact.