"We just got lucky with the election results," Mike the Cop said, referring to the fact that, except for a Nov. 4 protest that touched off scuffles between police and demonstrators on the last night when it seemed possible President Trump would win a second term, the violent disturbances the NYPD had been bracing for since the last week in October didn't materialize.
"They were prepared for the worst," he said of department brass who'd geared up for an all-hands response. "There were some skirmishes, there were some problems, but it was basically localized," referring to the perception that even the anarchists in the crowd tended to be from New York, with the notable exception of the woman from Philadelphia who spat on a cop and was immortalized by the New York Post as a "Phlegm Fatale."
Mike, who spoke as usual on condition that his real name not be used, is based in Manhattan and was not among those primarily deployed to handle protest activities. That Wednesday night protest that at times got unruly was staffed by the NYPD's Strategic Response Group "supplemented by cops from outer boroughs."
"It seems like they're trying to keep precinct personnel away from this stuff to deal with domestic disputes and people having heart attacks," he explained.
Cops in administrative jobs who were used to working steady tours, generally though not exclusively from 9 to 5, were detailed to midnight shifts but weren't needed as reinforcements on some of those nights. But their availability was required, Mike said, because a force stretched thin by a stream of officers leaving at nearly twice the normal rate was further depleted when officers were diverted from regular patrols for protest duty.
'Taking a Tougher Stance'
In late spring, he said, "During the George Floyd riots, we weren't taking a very-aggressive stance during the rioting and looting," which drew criticism from both Governor Cuomo and Mr. Trump. "They're taking a tougher stance now. You can't let the anarchists hijack a normal demonstration, and that's what started to happen" Nov. 4.
Since then, Mike continued, "I've noticed that things have settled down. Any demos we do see, the temperature has come down and they're smaller—instead of hundreds of people, there's 70, 80, 90 people."
Asked what the reaction among his colleagues had been to the election results, he said, "I think a lot of police officers did support Trump, but once the results came in, the discussions sort of stopped. There has been mostly silence. But I've always noticed that the loudest people tend to be the least-informed. I think a lot of cops were secretly relieved by the results just because it meant the city didn't erupt."
He said that while the department has always had a few conspiracy theorists in its ranks, he hadn't heard many officers echoing Mr. Trump's claim that he was the victim of election fraud. "One cop said, 'It's time to wrap it up; I'm tiring of hearing about it.' Another guy said, 'I don't wish Biden badly. It's not the end of the world.'"
One significant development from the election was that aside from the presidential vote, Democrats had not done nearly as well as expected in both congressional races and legislative ones, including those in New York. The party's apparent loss of four seats in the State Senate was one example of what appeared to be a backlash against the "defund the police" movement here and in other cities and the violence committed at some rallies where anti-cop actions and chants were featured.
Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch led a law-enforcement-union coalition's drive to elect Republicans in both the State Senate—where 12 of the 21 candidates it backed appeared to have won, pending the tally of absentee ballots in a couple of close races—and Congress, where it played a key role in Nicole Malliotakis's surprisingly big win over incumbent Max Rose for a seat representing Staten Island and a slice of Brooklyn. He has viewed the results as both a vindication and a cautionary tale for moderate Democrats about the political perils of not defending police officers.
Not on Their Radar
Mike said that most officers he knew weren't paying close attention to those results. He also hadn't heard much reaction to the resignation of a veteran cop, Francisco Garcia, a week before the election rather than face firing at a departmental trial for his forceful take-down six months earlier of a man who objected to an attempt by cops in the East Village to enforce social distancing.
Mr. Lynch accused the NYPD of scapegoating Mr. Garcia, but Mike speculated there hadn't been similar outrage among the rank and file because it was unknown whether the officer was on dismissal probation prior to the incident and therefore was certain of being terminated if he went to trial. Beyond that, he said, the May 2 incident "was long-enough ago, and memories are short."
One byproduct of the unrest on city streets and the climate that seized parts of the city after the killing of Mr. Floyd May 25 by a Minneapolis cop that hasn't faded from officers' consciousness, he said, was the diaphragm-compression bill passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor de Blasio July 15 against the sharp objections of top NYPD commanders. It subjects cops to criminal prosecution and fines of up to $2,500 if they compress the diaphragm of someone with whom they're struggling—an occupational hazard for any cop looking to make an arrest unless he or she has several other officers assisting in immobilizing the suspect so they don't have to come into contact with his torso to get him in handcuffs.
"It has sort of handicapped us in a bad way," Mike said. "Until the diaphragm bill is altered or repealed, there's going to be leeriness about how and when there might be police action."
Asked whether there had been any instances in which he hadn't acted as quickly as he might have because he was worried about the legal consequences, he replied, "I haven't had any run-ins where I stopped and I thought about what the implications might be. You just focus on keeping yourself safe. Some cops because they're 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds can get people to comply just by giving them a hard look; for most of us, though, talking to people gets you where you want. You just have to take a little more time."
Diplomacy Has Detractors
Some members of the public might question officers not acting more decisively in some of those situations, Mike said, but "good cops have always done that. And especially with a body camera on, you're aware you have to be careful. It makes you think [regarding those with cell-phone cameras], 'Am I going to be the next one on YouTube?' You always have to watch your mouth, and especially when you have a body camera recording."
On the other hand, he said, "there are some situations where you just have to go right to physical force; there are situations where it might be more dangerous to try to negotiate. And sometimes, it might sound like a cliche, but there's a good-cop/bad-cop element that comes into play."
And so even if tensions are easing a bit between cops and the communities they patrol, Mike said, "Normalcy is not coming speeding back. And the other half of that is that we're still in the middle of a pandemic. The weather's gotten colder and things tend to quiet down, but then you have this noisy election and you've got the chance of the virus spreading more to think about."
Factors like those may be why he sees no sign of a slowing of the exodus of officers from the NYPD, many of them not yet able to retire and qualify for a full pension. "There are young guys leaving who don't even have jobs lined up, but they've only been here two or three years so they aren't heavily invested," he said. "I know guys with 10 years on who are leaving. People are leaving and they're not going into other law-enforcement professions—they're going back to work in their father's business, or doing something else."
He did not feel insulted by the Mayor's decision to create a pilot program in two police precincts in which Emergency Medical Technicians, assisted by a mental-health professional, will be the first-responders to reports of problems with Emotionally Disturbed Persons. Rather, he found it odd that Mr. de Blasio would do this now, since the two precincts for the year-long pilot haven't yet been selected, meaning that by the time it is completed, a new Mayor may be the one deciding whether it's worth expanding.
Happy to Be Relieved
"I think a lot of officers would be very happy not to have to respond in these sorts of situations," Mike said. "It puts a lot of expertise and pressure on us."
And, he said, "I've spoken to EMS workers about it and they've said, 'We'll just wind up calling the P.D.'" to respond. A big reason is the uncertainty involved in such calls, even when you're used to them: "What if he has a weapon? What if the caller says he has a weapon and it turns out he doesn't?"
He added, "People are going to really have to be patient with that reform. It goes back to what people expect from their public services. Sometimes people are described as emotionally disturbed and they're just acting out, or having a bad moment."
Cops' reactions, Mike said, can run the gamut from using force to get them under control, peaceably persuading them to go with EMTs once an ambulance arrives, or deciding they have calmed the person sufficiently that no further action is needed.
"I'd love to see a system where we have a clinician responding," he said. "But in other places you can do that because everyone knows everyone; in the city it's going to be somewhat difficult because you don't have that familiarity. I think it's a well-intentioned idea that is not going to work for a pretty long time" before it improves with experience.
'Horrible But No Choice'
He was asked about the video of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old man whose family said he suffered from bipolar disorder, being fatally shot by Philadelphia cops as he purposefully approached them holding a knife while ignoring repeated commands to put it down, and whether, watching the body-camera footage, he believed they had other options.
"They really didn't have a choice," Mike said. "It's a horrible thing to have to kill someone in front of their parents, but he had a knife and he wasn't dropping it. He was 20 feet away [when shot], but he could close that gap in a second, and you can't take that chance. It was horrible, but it had to be done."
He was also perplexed that despite the officers not showing the kind of egregiously cold-blooded behavior displayed by Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop charged with murdering George Floyd, Mr. Wallace's death triggered mini-riots in Brooklyn.
"It's in Philadelphia," Mike said. "Why are you rioting here?"
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