A continuing issue with the police is that they take care of their own, meaning that the rules they apply to the rest of us, often with far more force than can possibly be justified, don’t apply to them. Yet, the Gothamist offers a story that defies this:
Authorities say that at 2:33 a.m. on Thursday, 30-year-old Jeffrey Balzotti, an NYPD sergeant, was arrested while allegedly driving drunk within the confines of the 10th precinct. He was charged with a DWI and driving recklessly.
On Friday morning, at around 4:30 a.m., the NYPD says Jose Vanderpool, a 30-year-old police officer, was pulled over in Queens and charged with a DWI. The Post reports he was involved in a collision on 32nd Avenue in Jackson Heights, and refused a breathalyzer.
And less than an hour later at 5:05 a.m., authorities say NYPD sergeant Donald Stewart, 34, was arrested near Fulton and Boyland Streets in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He was also charged with a DWI.
Three busts in 27 hours this past week, all involving cops driving drunk? And two sergeants? What gives?
Not only does this response fly in the face of common experience, but it raises a great many questions. So if three cops are arrested for drink driving in this one period, what of all the drunk driving cops who were cut loose before? Is this a new policy of the NYPD, to no longer give courtesy to their brothers? If so, was it just this period to send a message, or will this be the new rule going forward? Does this apply to everything, or just drunk driving? Will they be ticketed for speeding, for running lights, for recklessness when it doesn’t involve alcohol?
From the outside perspective, a 27-hour period where three cops, and not probationary rookies but experienced officers, sergeants, get busted is a game changer. The message a day like this sends is that the New York City Police Department may finally be getting the message that cops aren’t above the law, and that the rest of the city has had it with the special treatment shown their own.
Within the department, a day like this could be the start of the sort of internal anger and protests that marked the hatred toward Mayor David Dinkins. One would think it hard to mount a campaign based upon the right to commit crimes with impunity, but the combination of pro-police bias and facile rhetoric has long proven adequate to the task. PBA president Pat Lynch is far beyond shameless, which is why he’s held the position forever.
It’s not that it’s completely unheard of for cops to be arrested for drunk driving. When they crash into another vehicle, particularly when it was parked, or nearly run down a squad of their own. And of the three arrested in the 27-hour period, one was involved in a crash, though the details are unsaid.
What does this all mean? Does it mean anything?
Some might speculate that because they’re cops, they will receive special treatment by the prosecutors and courts, and that may be the case but it’s purely speculative at this point. They will be subject to department discipline regardless, which may not be as harsh as some might think appropriate, but still involves a significant hit in addition to whatever happens in court.
If this is an indication that the NYPD under its new chief, Bill Bratton, is taking a dim view of cops committing crimes, and that they will neither be ignored, swept under the rug or condoned, then this could go a long way to restoring public trust following too many years, too many millions of people, frisked for being young and black. But then, this is just one of a great many things that have broken faith between the police and the people.
Still, it’s a positive sign, if it’s a sign at all. As I responded to Turk when he sent me the link to the story, it’s like the old joke, what do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.