This feature interview with New York Police Department PBA President Patrick Lynch is a hard-hitting assessment of the current status of policing in the largest police department in America, and the unfortunate disconnect with the politicians who neither care to compensate the police for their work or allow them to do their jobs. President Lynch has a reputation for steadfast support for the officers he represents and for calling out politicians and other opportunists when they marginalize the professionalism of the men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day to maintain the safety and security of the community. Blue Magazine thanks President Lynch for his efforts. We support the NYPD officers and hope they are compensated fairly for their labor. They deserve every bit of it.
The Blue Magazine: Do you believe there is a Ferguson effect on cops today?
Patrick Lynch: In New York City, police officers haven’t stopped responding to crimes or emergencies or helping people in distress. And we won’t stop -- it’s why we took this job. But our city leaders have enacted many policies that take away the discretion and legal tools we need to do our job. They have sent a clear message that proactive policing is not the number one priority. That not only makes it harder to clear conditions before they become serious crime, but it has caused routine encounters to escalate too quickly into confrontations where people believe that they have a right to resist arrest. Cops across the country are facing this same struggle, and it is a clear disincentive.
Why do you believe there’s an increase in assassinations of cops?
In recent elections, many politicians have tried to whip up votes by demonizing the police. Then they passed laws that handcuff police officers and encourage the public to view them as the enemy. They don’t seem to think their words and actions have any consequences, and they are wrong. They have created the hostile environment we face on the street, and that environment and anti-police rhetoric encourages those who are looking to hurt cops. That’s why our fellow officers Rafael Ramos, Wenjian Liu and Miosotis Familia were assassinated here in New York for no other reason than because they wore blue. We saw it again in Dallas, and again in Baton Rouge, and other locations across the country.
How would you describe the relationship between the officers and the mayor and other politicians currently in power?
Obviously this mayor and his anti-police attitudes are a big part of the negative environment we’re talking about. But he has been just as bad on labor issues and paying police officers fairly. We are without a contract for over a year, and all we get from the mayor’s team are unreasonable demands and delaying tactics. He has been terrible for city workers overall. He claims to be a progressive “friend of the working man,” but he has given out lower raises than either Giuliani or Bloomberg during the same period. And those raises have been below the inflation rate, so labor is regressing salary-wise. How is that progressive?
How has New York City changed since the Giuliani 1994-2002 era, where it saw its biggest crime reduction compared to management today under Mayor De Blasio?
This mayor and city council have normalized criminal behavior, and that’s allowing quality of life to slip backward. Pot smoking, public urination, disorderly conduct have all been virtually decriminalized, but that hasn’t stopped the public from calling to complain about them. Now, you’re starting to see more serious crime creep back up in parts of the city. We aren’t back to the 1980s yet and we won’t get there overnight, but the longer the slide goes on, the harder it will be for us to turn the ship around.
We see in the media that cops are being harassed and met with an unbelievable amount of disrespect toward them. What do you believe has happened to society today?
It all starts with the environment that the politicians and elected officials have created. When they decriminalized disorderly behavior, when the demonized and handcuffed police officers, what did they think was going to happen? Did they think any of that was going create respect for police officers or for the law?
How can we prevent that type of stuff?
As I said before, our elected leaders have put handcuffs on police officers. It’s time to take the cuffs off the cops and put them where they belong: on the people who are creating chaos on the streets. The only way to undo that damage is teach respect for police in our classrooms. Children have a unique ability to carry a message back to their homes, and bringing respect for law enforcement would resolve many other problems we see today.
How do you feel cops react to body cameras now, and how do you think it will help rather than hurt cops?
Cameras of all kinds are a fact of life for police officers today – body cameras, security cameras, and the phone cameras that every single person is now carrying. We have to assume we’re being recorded at all times. But with body cameras, the big question is who should have access to this footage. In New York State, the law protects the footage from public disclosure without a court order, but the city has tried to use it as a political PR tool by arbitrarily releasing some videos and not others. We’re currently suing over that practice and won an injunction to block any further release of the videos. The real lesson that has been learned from body cams so far is that the police do their jobs professionally under extremely difficult circumstances. It begs the question: Why do we need the cameras when we can use the extraordinary amount of money to support them to hire more cops?
Should police be more aggressive toward disrespect in which there are laws broken, such as disorderly conduct, blocking vehicular traffic, etc. in order to hold them accountable so it does not embolden other people to lawlessness?
It’s not just about being aggressive – it’s about restoring the tools that allow police officers to use their professional judgment to do the job effectively. What we saw in the past was a numbers game, where cops were pressured to produce “activity” for its own sake. We were the first police union to warn that the quest for numbers was driving a wedge between cops and the community. But rather than allowing police officers the discretion to use a specific legal tool when necessary, they’ve taken those tools away. That is what has emboldened criminals and encouraged lawlessness.
How do you get the mayor to better understand a cop’s job so he can help and give them permission to do their job effectively?
He clearly needs a history lesson on what this city looked like 20 or 30 years ago. When I was on patrol in the 90 Precinct in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the ‘80s & ‘90s, I remember standing over a DOA on a specific street corner, with nothing but drug houses and abandoned buildings all around me. Today, that same street corner has restaurants and hipster night spots, surrounded by luxury high-rises. Back then, you couldn’t have paid me to live on that corner. Today, a cop can’t afford a studio apartment in the neighborhood and can barely afford to settle down and start a family anywhere in the city that we protect. That transformation didn’t just magically happen – it happened because New York City police officers had the tools necessary to take care of the drug houses and put away the killers who were leaving bodies on the sidewalk. Now, a police officer facing the same problems can’t do the job because politicians have emptied the officer’s tool box, and that puts the officer and neighborhood at risk.
The New York City Police Department is the largest, most diverse and dangerous department in the nation. How is it that their pay doesn’t reflect this?
Effectively, everyone benefited from New York City police officers’ work to turn this city around during the last two decades. That is, everyone but the cops. While we were busy transforming the city in the 1990s, Mayor Giuliani stuck us with two and a half years with zero raises. During that time, other departments were consistently getting modest raises, leaving our pay in the dust. We’ve made great strides in recent years, but we are still not being paid a market rate of pay. NYC police officers have one of the toughest jobs in the country, in one of the most challenging, densely populated urban environments in America. I believe we should be the highest paid in the nation as we once were. Despite the success we have had in reducing crime and revitalizing the city’s economy, this mayor, who pretends to be supportive of labor, still wants our members to take zeroes in our contract. We will not accept that.
Do you believe that their salary has an impact on the ability of cops to be more proactive and preemptive?
It’s a disincentive for them to come on our job in the first place, or to stick around once they get here. Last year, the number of resignations from the NYPD hit a six-year high. Many of who resign are headed to other police departments in the NYC area or even other law enforcement agencies that operate within the five boroughs. The pay disparities are just that great.
Where do you see New York City 10 years from now if you have an administration like you have today?
If that happens, we will be back to the bad old days and politicians would have squandered all of the hard work the NYPD has done in the past 20 plus years. And those elected officials who caused the backslide will have moved on, leaving the good people of this city and its police officers holding the bag.
What message can you give, not only to your men and women but all officers who feel that it’s harder to be a cop today because of politics and the media bashing them?
Policing is a noble profession regardless of what the false narrative says. We do our job and we do it well.