Smearing law enforcement officers hurts recruitment E-mail
Written by Eugene O'Donnell   

We’ve also heard persistent restatement of a falsehood – the vicious myth that cops in this city kill unarmed civilians on a regular basis. Such incendiary language carries a high cost. Cops who do their job honorably, and in a manner all but oblivious to race, find themselves counting the days until they can retire.

And young people considering a career in the NYPD wonder why they should join an organization described with contempt. Even with paltry starting pay of $25,000 in recent years, a surprising number of principled young people, many of them minorities, still feel the pull of a career in public service.

Every time one of these young people takes a pass on the chance to serve in uniform, we lose a once and future potential police leader. This is ironic, because the same folks who malign the department in the wake of the Bell verdict also accuse the NYPD of being insufficiently diverse at the highest levels.

In fact, NYPD cops are in every sense peace officers; they keep the city safe and lay the foundation for all of us to live here, in all the diverse glory that is New York. They protect the most vulnerable and defenseless. Hundreds of times each day, they defuse violence and mediate tensions, confining disagreements to words, not weapons.

They’re first responders to beaten children and the abused elderly. They capture bullying robbers, depraved rapists and perpetrators of hate crimes. They climb bridges and under trains to rescue and comfort the mentally distraught. They make sure domestic violence doesn’t become domestic homicide.

They put themselves on the line about 80 times a week to arrest those carrying guns, preventing many young deaths. And in all of these gun arrests, it is extremely rare that they discharge a single shot at anyone. The bulk of their anti-crime work is in lower-income communities, in public housing and on the subways – places where residents don’t have the protection of chauffeurs, doormen or alarm systems.

The NYPD is among the most restrained big-city police departments on the planet. It’s not a perfect organization, but one that does learn lessons – especially in the area of the use of deadly force. It’s also a department on the verge of becoming ever more diverse and inclusive – as long as potential new officers feel they won’t be excoriated at every turn. This is not to trivialize the death of an unarmed person, or to call for watchdogs to stop watching.

Indeed, it is crucial that police operations be scrupulously examined and fine tuned to current crime conditions. There’s a need to re-examine the CompStat system, where “better” policing always seems to mean more – when it is often true that less policing is more. We also need to consider whether we’re too often relying on police to solve problems they don’t create and can never fix.

But this is a plea for reasonable criticism of the NYPD and humane analysis of the actions of the humans who are cops. In the name of all who see a nobility in protecting and helping others; who aspire to be cops not to bully or oppress; who are willing to suffer injury or death to help people they’ve never met – this is a reminder that unwarranted words of scorn can damage not only the police department, but the  city itself.

Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer, teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.


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