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Legislative changes that will significantly affect police discipline, from the penalties involved to public disclosure of relevant past violations by cops, moved to enactment by Governor Cuomo so quickly that the police unions had no real chance to head them off.
These reforms and the speed with which they were passed—including a ban on cops statewide using choke-holds that got unanimous support from Republicans in the State Senate as well as the Democratic majority—are an unambiguous message about how public sentiment has shifted in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.
The sickening video of Sgt. Derek Chauvin pressing his knee against Mr. Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while other officers did nothing offered an image that will not fade anytime soon. Nor will the disgraceful sight—if with a less-tragic outcome—of cops from an elite Buffalo P.D. unit walking past a 75-year-old man visibly bleeding from a head wound after two members of the unit shoved him when he got too close to them following a peaceful protest.
It was notable that during a June 9 press conference decrying state legislators' push to impose greater controls on police behavior, two prominent union leaders condemned the since-fired Mr. Chauvin as an aberration rather than a cop worth defending. Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said of the fatal confrontation he instigated, "There was no struggle, there was no reason...we denounce it, and we have from the beginning."
There is a huge difference between Mr. Lynch's aggressive advocacy for officers and the aggressive stupidity displayed by police-union leaders purporting to represent the best interests of cops in Minneapolis and Buffalo.
Bob Kroll, the embattled head of the Minnesota police union, attacked Mr. Floyd for having a "violent criminal history" based on an armed robbery in 2007 for which he served five years in prison. What relevance that had to the incident in which Mr. Chauvin attacked him while he was handcuffed after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill wasn't clear. And Lieutenant Kroll himself has a lengthy rap sheet of violent conduct both on and off duty that produced suspensions, a demotion and lawsuits settled by the city.
The head of the Buffalo PBA, John Evans, showed awful judgment when he said that the two officers who have been criminally charged with assaulting 75-year-old Martin Gugino were in trouble "OVER BULL----."
Not the smartest reaction to an incident in which an elderly man had his head cracked open and the entire Emergency Response Team walked past him lying on the ground, blood visible on the pavement. A demand Governor Cuomo made of President Trump for tweeting that Mr. Gugino "set up" the cops—"Show some humanity"—could be posed to Mr. Evans as well.
Beyond the reminders that video is the great equalizer against police cover-ups, the criminal charges against the other cops present at the Minneapolis confrontation and the harsh criticism of the Buffalo officers for not stopping to attend to Mr. Gugino offer road maps to union leaders and police commanders about proper training for street cops.
That starts with the reminder that the oath they take is to serve and protect, and so if someone is placed in serious physical jeopardy by the questionable actions of a fellow cop, the unwritten rules about standing together shouldn't apply. Few cops of sound mind are likely to risk both their jobs and their freedom for fear of speaking or acting out of turn to prevent another tragedy. No competent city government is going to tolerate rogue cops with a taste for excessive force because of some myth that they're the type of officers you need to patrol rough neighborhoods.
The reactions since Mr. Floyd's murder have illustrated the cost of such beliefs—in property damage, injured officers trying to maintain order, embarrassment to cities forced to examine racially-based disparities in treatment by the police, and the harm done to the reputation of police forces like the NYPD's which, on balance, do a capable, conscientious job of maintaining the peace.
No troubled officers, whether street cops in a position to unjustifiably use lethal force or union leaders eager to toss gasoline on the fire, are worth looking the other way about.