For Mike the Cop, watching from New York Jan. 6 as the U.S. Capitol Building was invaded by supporters of President Trump, it seemed to unfold in a kind of parallel universe from what he'd experienced the previous seven months in dealing with demonstrations along Manhattan streets that sometimes veered astray.
One reason was that it had never gotten that bad here: even when cops were significantly outnumbered in the early days of protests following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis cop, they never found themselves in the position of having to protect elected officials' lives.
And the windows that were smashed belonged to stores that had merchandise inside, not the Vice President or the Speaker of the House or members of Congress whom the mob in its frenzy seemed determined to take hostage or even kill. It settled for ganging up on police officers, grabbing one by his helmet, dragging him down the stairs, and then kicking and punching him, with one of the thugs whacking him repeatedly with a pole flying the American flag.
"The symbolism was rich," Mike, which is not his real name, said Jan. 27, the emotion in his voice not tempered by the three weeks that had passed since that savage piece of domestic terrorism, incited by a President too crazed by his looming loss of power to think twice about telling the mob they'd better "fight like hell [or] you're not gonna have a country anymore."
'Disgusting and Disheartening'
The veteran NYPD officer said, "It was absolutely disgusting and it was wrong and it was disheartening."
Equally surreal, he added, was the relatively few casualties, although one of them was another Capitol Police Officer, Brian Sicknick, who died of injuries sustained when he was bashed in the head by a fire extinguisher wielded by one of the insurrectionists.
"The fact that only one [rioter] was shot and killed was shocking to practically everyone in the profession," Mike said.
Other than that, he continued, the response by Federal officials, from those commanding the Capitol Police—who were ousted the following day after the terrorists were driven from the building and order restored—to those responsible for summoning back-up, was "disappointing."
"The Feds are considered the Big Boys of law enforcement," Mike explained: supposedly better-trained and better-prepared than local officers because they are responsible for the safety of the entire nation and its government.
And while there were those who asserted the lackluster response and the poor planning reflected a double standard because those who had come there to protest were largely white—as did the lack of deadly force used when the mob got close enough to pose a real threat to Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and the hundreds of members of Congress who were gathered to deal with the ratification of the Electoral College vote—Mike thought the reasons were complicated and tied more to ideology than race.
"I think it had more to do with allegiances and the demos with Trump flags and American flags had been going on for awhile, and they had never turned into anti-police and anti-government-official and anti-government things," he said.
'A Level of Betrayal'
Speaking of some of his NYPD colleagues, he said, "I think a lot of cops who had faith in Trump's supporters felt a certain level of betrayal. These [right-wing protesters] are the guys who would always say, 'Hey, we're on your side.' But then you have cops getting trampled, cops getting crushed against a door, cops being forced back by a mob. It gets murky when you have a guy flying the Thin Blue Line flag charging at you. This is what happens when you get too comfortable, too complacent with people whose support of you only goes so far."
I asked whether he was surprised that Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch and Sergeants Benevolent Association head Ed Mullins, who had accused Mayor de Blasio of "blood on the hands" for a comment he made 17 days before the assassination of two Brooklyn cops in 2014 that had nowhere near the immediacy nor the inflammatory tone of Mr. Trump's exhortations to his mob, had failed to criticize the President for his role in the bloodshed that cost one cop his life.
"That's probably just misplaced political loyalty," Mike said. "Maybe it's just because of their giving him the endorsement, so they're sticking by him."
Or it may be that the two union leaders knew that even after this, Mr. Trump was a more-politically dicey target for their invective than Mr. de Blasio has been throughout his first seven years in office. And the sense of much of New York's Democratic political establishment being aligned against city cops since late last spring, with Mr. de Blasio either straddling the fence or taking actions that worked to officers' detriment, may have accounted for some cops' reluctance to wash their hands of the disgraced former President.
Even as winter's cold has reduced violent crime on city streets the past couple of months, criticism of the NYPD and its officers has continued to gust. A December report by the Department of Investigation, which the Mayor quickly endorsed, accused the NYPD of overreacting to the protests that began shortly after Mr. Floyd's death, and of exacerbating tensions by having officers show up wearing helmets and shields, nightsticks at the ready, even as it mentioned some of the reasons for that aggressive street presence.
One, as Mike noted, was that a show of force often has the effect of diminishing the enthusiasm of many in a fired-up crowd to be part of a physical confrontation. The lack of that kind of presence—despite warnings the Acting Chief of the Capitol Police told Congress Jan. 26 that her superiors had received about many of those who had come to the Capitol being armed—contributed to the chaotic situation the protesters were able to create, Mike said.
Strength in Numbers
"If you had a larger, more-prepared police presence with the proper equipment, you could've controlled it a lot better," he contended.
Regarding the complaints some protesters made to DOI officials about the added tension created by cops on city streets decked out in battle gear, Mike said, "Those helmets saved lives during the worst of it."
He cited one case in which an officer's face shield was shattered by a brick thrown by one protester. Another brick struck a police commander in the back of the head, someone who "is probably alive only because he was wearing that helmet," the veteran officer remarked. "When things are getting hot, you have to respond with force. I don't think any of us care how uncomfortable it makes anyone" to see officers in "hats and bats" mode in such circumstances.
The NYPD issued a new disciplinary matrix late last summer and spelled out new penalties under it recently that Mike implied were more about public relations than justifiable punishment.
"It's definitely a change," he said. "It's got people rattled. They wanna take [vacation] days away for things that are pretty minor stuff. There are things like using offensive language that could be a 3-to-10-day rip."
And then there was State Attorney General Letitia James, filing a lawsuit Jan, 14 in Federal Court accusing the NYPD of permitting excessive force and unlawful arrests as ways of "suppressing overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations." Five days later, after a confrontation between cops and participants in a Black Liberation March marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day the night before, Ms. James accused the department of proving her point.
She did so even after Police Commissioner Dermot Shea led an NYPD response that the outbreak—in which 11 cops were injured and 28 protesters were arrested—was something demonstrators had been spoiling for from the time one of the speakers at the march's origin outside the Barclay Center advised that anyone in the crowd who wasn't ready to confront the police should "go home."
'She Was Piling On'
Regarding the lawsuit, Mike said, "Everybody pretty much thought that was a lot of nonsense," because the complaint was so one-sided that it could have been written by attorneys for the demonstrators. "It seemed like everybody hated the idea of being sued, even though the suit was aimed at the department as a whole."
And when Ms. James subsequently criticized the march response even as no facts emerged to contradict Mr. Shea's account of events, Mike continued, "It seemed like piling on."
The Commissioner had explained that cops moved in on the demonstrators when they began to menace a woman who had been recording them, rather than waiting for them to physically attack her.
"These are tactics that are used to control out-of-control situations," Mike explained. "The department adapted to a new tactic to lock down things more quickly rather than waiting for them to evolve into something more serious that requires a stronger response. It's easier to make 10 arrests than to let it spiral into something that requires 300 or 400 arrests."
Asked about Ms. James having quickly leapt to the conclusion that the cops were wrong to act as they did, Mike said, "It bothers everyone, but at this point I don't think it surprised anyone." Of more note to him and his colleagues, he said, was that "I think Shea tried to back us on that."
Even as crime has let up a bit, as it typically does during the colder months of the year, he said there hadn't really been a respite, or even a significant reduction in the number of times when he and his colleagues had to step out of their patrol cars to deal with situations on the street.
Cold Hasn't Chilled Violence
There may be fewer murders being reported lately, but as far as gun-related incidents go, Mike said, "They're not as bad as they were over the summer, but there are still shootings—you had that one last night in the 43rd Precinct," referring to an incident in which an officer assigned to the NYPD's Gun Violence Suppression Unit had been shot in the back beneath his bulletproof vest while chasing a suspect in The Bronx's Soundview section.
The officer, Daniel Vargas, whose unit Mike described as "a very prestigious assignment [filled by] tactically minded cops," was taken to Jacobi Hospital and was expected to make a full recovery from the bullet wound.
Even before that reminder of cops' mortality, he said, "Morale was still pretty low. Everybody is happy to have their days off again [since the protest schedule subsided a few months ago], but it's still pretty low, and I don't think it's gonna bounce back anytime soon."
One reason for that is that cops continue to work shorthanded. A police class that was supposed to begin training last July and graduate in January was canceled—one of the casualties of the cuts to the NYPD budget agreed to by the Mayor and the City Council at the height of the anti-police fervor at the beginning of the summer. While two classes were enrolled in October and late December, the first group of graduates won't be available for street patrols until April.
"The rate of attrition is really starting to be felt in the department," Mike said about the unusually high number of retirements and officers leaving for jobs elsewhere that are believed to be largely the result of discontent with the way cops have been treated by top city and state officials who seem intent on making their jobs harder.
The eventual reinforcements will help, Mike said, but April seems pretty far off, and when the new officers join the patrol force, "it's gonna be too little, too late—at least initially."
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