Police Unions Fill The Void

As predicted, the Old City of New York, ruled by the sensibilities of billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, pushed forward with their efforts to defend the Stop & Frisk policy even after the mayor of the New City of New York was crowned.  Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo had an office full of lawyers, and told them to get their brief done before the guards changed, and they did.

But in the cesspool of the 2d Circus that has come to characterize the Floyd and Ligon cases, affecting more New Yorkers than perhaps any other, the City’s attempt to leap-frog perfecting its appeal barely made a ripple.  When the stories involve daring feats of acrobatics and amazingly scary clowns, the filing of a brief doomed to never be decided doesn’t rate much attention.

And yet, there is another request that’s flying relatively low to the ground, enough so that it hasn’t really been noticed yet, is that New York City’s police unions are seeking to intervene in the appeal:

Police unions are asking the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether they can challenge reforms to the NYPD’s use of the stop-and-frisk tactic that were ordered by a federal judge last year.

Mayor Bloomberg had appealed the August 2013 decision by Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin. Mayor de Blasio, who took the oath of office on Wednesday, vowed that he would drop Bloomberg’s appeal now that he runs the city.

The unions want to carry the appeal forward themselves but need approval from the 2nd Circuit. In letters Monday and Tuesday, union lawyers asked the 2nd Circuit to rule on their motions to intervene before the de Blasio administration moves to drop Bloomberg’s appeal.

The surface problem, of course, is that the appellant in the case is the City of New York, both old and new, which putatively represents the millions of New Yorkers with darker skin that have become intimate with the stop & frisk program.  Don’t let the fact that the City is responsible for this dissuade you from seeing how it’s all done for the benefit of City residents. Some of them, anyway.

The police unions (which are inexplicably unnamed in the Daily News article, but presumably Pat Lynch’s PBA and the Sergeants Benevolent Association) serve a different constituency.  As much as it’s easy to slam the unions’ interest in getting involved, they come by it honestly and, truth be told, with far clearer purpose than does the City. The unions are there to serve the interests of their members, and that’s what they unapologetically do.

So why do they care enough to try to intervene?  The fear is that the New City of New York Mayor, Bill deBlasio, will keep his campaign promises.  Crazy, sure, but it could happen. Even though deBlasio’s first move was to name Bill Bratton, who out-Giuliani’d Rudy as police commissioner, there is no certainty that the largest standing army in any city in the country will remain unmolested.

Substantively, there is little to no chance that the 2d Circuit would allow the police unions to take up the cause on behalf of the City of New York should the city decide not to pursue the appeal.  While they might be allowed to offer an amicus brief, as if their position was in doubt, the unions have no argument whatsoever to suggest their interests and the interests of the people of New York coincide.  Hell, they don’t even intersect.

But the fact that the unions are willing to try such a hare-brained stunt is most telling: they will do anything possible to fight that prong of now-ousted Judge Scheindlin’s order, that police officers might be forced to wear body cams so that anyone actually knows what they do on the streets.  This is a fear so great, so horrific, that the unions risk abject embarrassment when the circuit panel responds to their request with a terse “are you guys nuts?” on the one-in-a-million chance that the panel will issue an order allowing them to maintain the fight should the city quit.

Some police departments in other parts of the nation embrace the idea of cameras, believing them to serve far better to show their integrity and make their cases than show police misconduct.  In a survey on body cams at PoliceOne, the results are stunning:

Perhaps the most important single piece of data was that more than 85 percent of respondents believe that body-worn cameras reduce false claims of police misconduct, and reduce the likelihood of litigation against the agency.

This doesn’t mean that the common complaints, that non-cops don’t “understand” what cops do, and are thus inclined to misinterpret videos to suit their own bias, or that the occasional beating mis-step by one officer won’t be projected onto all, but that they are willing to expose their work to scrutiny.  Since cops wearing cameras don’t beat people nearly as much as cops who don’t, this can’t hurt.

So why do the New York police unions fear a few cops per tour wearing body cams enough to court near-certain humiliation?  It could reveal that the millions of darker-skinned New Yorkers being thrown against walls for the last decade plus were right all along.  And if the Circuit tosses Judge Scheindlin’s ruling that the stop & frisk program was unconstitutional, then it’s like those millions of New Yorkers whose right to be left alone was violated never happened.  And the officers of the New York Police Department will be our Finest once again.