For Mayor de Blasio and New York Police, a Rift Is Ripped Open

Matt Flegenheimerdec, New York Times, December 21, 2014

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At the helm of a grieving New York, still raw from weeks of protests amid a national reckoning over law enforcement and race, Mr. de Blasio faces his biggest test yet.

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Yet on the heels of the police deaths, the long-simmering tensions between Mr. de Blasio and the department he has pledged to reshape have reached an extraordinary nadir. Officers, led by union leaders, turned their backs on the mayor and Commissioner William J. Bratton on Saturday night as the two walked through a hospital to address the public about the deaths.

The president of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, blamed Mr. de Blasio for the tragedy. The officers’ blood “starts on the steps of City Hall,” he said, “in the office of the mayor.”

The reaction encapsulated weeks of escalating tensions. Even before the shooting, union leaders had circulated a letter allowing officers to request that the mayor not attend their funerals in the event of their death in the line of duty.

Since Mr. de Blasio’s crusade on the campaign trail against what he viewed as overreaching by the police in the Bloomberg administration, those close to the mayor have professed that securing the trust of officers was an essential, complicated task.

And for much of the department, it seems, he has fallen far short.

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Protesters have filled the streets nearly every night in the more than two weeks since a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges in the police chokehold case of Eric Garner. Many of them have chafed at the mayor’s defense of “broken windows” theory of policing, the aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses, which Mr. Bratton has championed. (Officers approached Mr. Garner in July over the sale of loose cigarettes.)

The protests, which have been predominantly peaceful but have overtaken bridges and city streets, inspired union accusations that Mr. de Blasio had placed too high a priority on protecting the rights of the demonstrators. (He met on Friday with one of the protest groups, Justice League NYC.)

Even when trying to defend officers, the mayor has, at times, been criticized by them. After reports of an attack on two police lieutenants during protests on the Brooklyn Bridge on Dec. 13, union leaders lamented that the mayor’s statement condemning the episode included the qualifier that police were “allegedly assaulted.”

In interviews, officers have noted the commissioner’s repeated defense of Mr. de Blasio–for a mayoral motorcade that apparently defied traffic laws; for counting the Rev. Al Sharpton as a confidant; and for comments he made after the Garner decision.

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Even Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican and former mayor, offered a measure of cover to Mr. de Blasio, telling Fox News that it “goes too far” to blame the mayor for the deaths. But, he added, Mr. de Blasio “did not properly police the protests” by allowing them to block city streets.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Bratton acknowledged that “morale in the department, in general, is not good.”

Administration officials have attributed much of the police unrest to a contract dispute, suggesting that union leaders were not necessarily reflecting the opinions of the rank and file.

Many critics, though, trace the roots of department angst to the election last year. In an interview on ABC on Sunday, Mr. Bratton’s predecessor as commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, echoed a familiar refrain of the mayor’s skeptics: that he had run an “antipolice campaign.”

Mr. Bratton, in the interview on Friday, disputed this notion, arguing that Mr. de Blasio had in fact campaigned against the zealous use of stop-and-frisk tactics, not against those in the department.

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