Police unions cannot legally call for a work slowdown, but the firing of former NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner could result in fewer arrests, especially for low-level misdemeanors.
The firing, coupled with police outrage over recent incidents of people dumping buckets of water on officers in various parts of the city -- and other disrespectful acts -- has led to increasing anger among rank-and-file cops, law enforcement officials say.
“There's a tremendous amount of anger over the Pantaleo firing and the lack of civility toward police officers,” one source said.
“It’s a new era" the source said. “If you’re going to put your hands on someone to make an arrest, you have to be very aware that you could very well get in trouble for it.”
Since the firing, trustees of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the largest police union in the city, have been visiting police precincts to urge officers to be careful and to follow the police patrol guide, which lays out procedures. “They are being told to do their jobs; to pay attention to the patrol guide and to do everything they are supposed to do,” the law enforcement source said.
There is some evidence that the Pantaleo decision may be having an impact on police activity. Figures obtained by the New York Post show that arrests dropped 27% between Aug. 19 — the day Pantaleo was fired — and Aug. 25 compared to the same period in 2018, with police making 3,508 arrests compared to 4,827.
The NYPD replied to Straus News's request for comment with a statement from Deputy Commissioner Philip T. Walzak: “The brave women and men who joined the NYPD did so with a solemn promise to help people, to fight crime, and to keep New York City safe. It’s a sacred oath that NYPD cops will always uphold in service of New Yorkers in every neighborhood across our city. These dedicated officers practice precision policing - focusing on the offenders who commit crimes, not the accumulation of raw numbers.”
In 2014 a slowdown after the ambush murders in Brooklyn of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos led to a situation in which cops stopped giving out summonses and went strictly by the book in doing their jobs.
That led to longer response times and fewer arrests for several months. But according to the Daily News, it did not lead to substantial increases in the crime rate across the city.
Anger has rippled through the NYPD ranks since Aug. 19, when Police Commissioner James O'Neill fired Pantaleo for his involvement in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who cops said resisted arrest on Staten Island after they responded to a civilian complaint that he was selling loose cigarettes on the street. Deputy Police Commissioner for trials Rosemarie Maldonado, recommended Pantaleo be fired for using an illegal chokehold to subdue Garner.
In her 46-page opinion, Maldonado said Pantaleo's chokehold “fell so far short of objective reasonableness that this tribunal found it to be reckless -- a gross deviation from the standard of conduct established for a New York City police officer.” The death of Garner, who repeatedly cried out “I can't breathe" while being subdued, sparked widespread outrage across the city and became a rallying cry for police accountability.
In announcing his decision to fire the officer, O'Neill, an active duty cop for 34 years, said terminating Pantaleo was a “very difficult decision ... (but) the unintended consequences of Garner's death must have a consequence of its own. It is clear that Daniel Pantaleo can no longer effectively serve as a New York City police officer.”
A Political Football
On the day of the firing, PBA president Pat Lynch angrily declared: “We have no confidence that when we do our job, when we do as instructed, when we follow the law, that at the end of the day we won’t lose our job or lose our life. We have no confidence in both City Hall and the Police Commissioner’s Office. Today proved it — the job is dead.”
Edward Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told reporters “The NYPD is falling apart.” A sergeant who was supervising the arrest of Garner was reprimanded and lost 20 vacation days.
In remarks aimed directly at O’Neill, Mullins said, “the members of the NYPD do not respect you. They have no faith in your leadership, nor do they trust you.” He added; “For the good of this department, I urge you to do what’s right and resign immediately.”
“Police are empowered to use necessary force in making an arrest, but since Pantaleo, we’re seeing necessary force being used as a political football,” the law enforcement source said.
Incidents where people have dumped water on cops as they tried to make arrest is only making things worse – and can lead to officers being reluctant to issue summonses for minor offenses, which often don’t get prosecuted.
“It’s a very serious problem,” the source added. “Every time they encounter someone doing something wrong, it becomes a fight ... There’s a great deal of anger and I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.”