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Jan. 8, 2015 — The politicization of the police

The mission statement of American police forces can usually be summed up in the four words painted on the side of some squad cars: “To serve and protect.”

In the last few months, that mission statement has been questioned by politicians, activists, and the general public as scandals over the shooting of unarmed black teenagers, the seizure of assets, and what is seen as the militarization of some police forces have hit the headlines.

But in the last month or so in New York City, there has been some troubling pushback on the part of some police officers. During ceremonies to bury two officers killed in the line of duty, some officers turned their backs on New York City mayor Bill DiBlasio while he was speaking.

It is a display which, ostensibly, shows disapproval for DiBlasio for sticking up for marchers who protested against the slaying of an unarmed black teenager in Staten Island last year. And that’s the right of police officers to speak out.

But police officers aren’t supposed to be partisan, on one side of a particular issue or another. They are supposed to uphold the law — all laws, even the ones with which they disagree. They are also supposed to uphold the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States.

The problem with the gestures by a minority of New York City police officers is that it shows disrespect for their ultimate boss — the city’s mayor and Commander-In-Chief.

But it’s not for any principled reason; I think their collective action boils down to nothing more than money. The city of New York and its police are close to the end of their current contract, and the New York City police — one of the most well-armed, well-paid, and well-deployed forces in the country — are looking for maximum negotiation leverage.

Here’s the problem, however. The New York City police department has been called out for unconstitutional searches — sometimes called “stop and frisks” by the Supreme Court. The NYPD has also been caught running sophisticated spying operations far outside of its jurisdiction, with resources that some police forces envy.

The police have recently been ordered to end its stop-and-frisk tactics, but they’ve also been cutting down the number of tickets and citations issued — down nearly 92 percent by some estimates. Of course, that also tells you that there was a lot of overpolicing in the Giuliani and Bloomberg years.

The fact that Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of a New York City police officer went unindicted a month ago has led to not only marches and protests, but mini-protests during Sunday brunch destinations in not only New York, but in the Bay Area.

It wasn’t reported whether any police were involved in trying to stifle or stall the Black Brunch marches. But I’d be interested to see what would happen if they tried, especially in New York.

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