John Loud, a veteran Irish cop, sauntered out of a store in Harlem recently and found that his shabby Ford Taurus had been hemmed against the curb by a double-parked police car. The officers who left the car there were nowhere to be found.
“You see this?” Mr. Loud said. “If I lived up here in this neighborhood, I’d probably hate these guys, too.”
Mr. Loud, a decorated officer, was the model for a hero cop in the book Fort Apache, The Bronx , a gritty, 1970′s portrait of pre-Giuliani New York. He once put an end to a suicide drama by wrestling a would-be jumper away from the ledge of a Bronx tenement, a feat re-enacted by his fictional alter-ego, Officer John Lord.
These days Mr. Loud is the second vice president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union, and, at age 58, he is something of an elder statesman for young officers. So his opinions are not easily dismissed, and can hardly be described as the views of an Al Sharpton supporter. On the subject of Mayor Giuliani’s conduct after the police shooting of Patrick Dorismond in midtown, Mr. Loud finds himself wondering about the man who hopes to win a Senate seat based on his record as a crime-fighter.
“I’m a radical Rudy guy–I think he saved New York,” Mr. Loud said. “When I turn against Rudy, he’s really in trouble. I rarely disagree with him but it seems like he’s grasping for straws. I’ve got to ask, ‘Why is he doing it?’”
In the view of some police union officials, Dorismond’s death, as well as Mr. Giuliani’s subsequent release of the dead man’s arrest record, encapsulates everything that is wrong with City Hall’s handling of the police. The Mayor may defend the cops at every turn, but the Dorismond affair has come to symbolize the Mayor’s uneasy relationship with the police. They complain about interference from City Hall, Mr. Giuliani’s failure to soothe tensions between cops and communities, and the Mayor’s relentless pressure on cops to scrounge for high arrest numbers. Indeed, the detective implicated in the Dorismond shooting, Anthony Vasquez, issued a personal apology to the victim’s family, as if to distance himself from the Mayor’s behavior.
Patrick Lynch, president of the P.B.A., wouldn’t directly address Mr. Giuliani’s handling of the Dorismond affair. But he said: “After the New York City cops brought down crime, Giuliani should have gone out to the community and the clergy and reached out to people. We’re doing all the outreach here.”
Mr. Loud, for his part, said that the union was “aggressively fighting” City Hall’s obsession with numbers, referring outright to the existence of a quota system for arrests and saying that the pressure to meet quotas may have been a factor in Dorismond’s death. Mr. Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir have consistently denied the existence of arrest and summons quotas.
While the Mayor’s allies are trying to link critics of the embattled Police Department to Mr. Sharpton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other racially divisive figures, the police themselves are voicing strong doubts about the administration’s embrace of aggressive tactics and its focus on the quantity, rather than the quality, of arrests.
“The Mayor micromanages the department from City Hall,” said Thomas Scotto, the head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, which represents Detective Vasquez. “In essence, he uses it as a tool of City Hall. They are running the department for political reasons, rather than for policing reasons. [Cops] know they’re being directed by City Hall, and a lot of them are resentful. Morale is off the table. It’s nonexistent.”
The cops believe they have good reason to be upset with their chief public defender. Even as crime has dropped throughout the city, the Mayor has been pushing for more arrests with Operation Condor, a two-month-old antidrug initiative, which brought Detective Vasquez into fatal contact with Dorismond. As a result, the cops have been hauling off such criminals as urinators, trespassers, pot-smokers, beer quaffers and even the occasional spitter. (In Mr. Loud’s heyday, “Book him for spitting” meant “Jail him on a pretext.”)
In the view of cops and their superiors, Mr. Giuliani’s Operation Condor is forcing them into needless confrontations with the pettiest of offenders. For instance, one recent evening found a half-dozen of these offenders rounded up during a sweep on the Lower East Side. They were handcuffed and jammed into the back of a police van. On the way to the precinct house, as the vehicle navigated the lower Manhattan streets, detectives bantered with each other and casually cursed Mr. Giuliani.
“We’re just ruining people’s lives now–that’s what we’re doing,” one detective in the van said.
At the precinct house the offenders were photographed and fingerprinted. Then they were strip-searched by a burly detective who asked the criminals to undress, drop their underwear to their ankles, turn their socks inside out and squat down on the concrete floor–a precaution designed to shake out loose hidden objects. After that, the offenders were hauled off to the dreaded “Tombs” prison in lower Manhattan, where they languished in a cell for 18 hours–no pillow, no blanket–along with people accused of violent crimes who were on their way to Rikers Island. In nearly a day’s wait, guests were allowed two dry bologna sandwiches and one small box of Rice Krispies–no milk. Thirsty clients were directed to the cell’s communal sink.
Cops Going Crazy
Operation Condor is driving cops crazy. “We ought to be going after rapists and murderers,” groused Mr. Loud.
The Dorismond affair, and the Mayor’s subsequent handling of it, has exacerbated police frustration with Operation Condor. Mr. Giuliani’s decision to unload on the dead man has needlessly made life difficult for officers who have endured the wrath of angry citizens, Mr. Loud contended.
“It’s like throwing gasoline on the fire, and we’re out there trying to work with the community,” he said.
Interestingly, despite all the tension and frustration, one voice that could carry more weight than any other on behalf of cops has been largely absent from the debate. Mr. Lynch, the energetic Ed Burns lookalike who was elected president of the P.B.A. last year, took power amid a rank-and-file revolt against previous leaders who were perceived as too timid in their criticism of City Hall. Mr. Lynch ran a blisteringly anti-Giuliani campaign; in an interview with The Observer last year, he vowed to be far more confrontational with City Hall than his predecessors had been.
Since his victory, however, Mr. Lynch has had little to say about the strains placed on cops by Operation Condor, a lucrative source of overtime pay for cops, or about how City Hall’s handling of the Dorismond affair has frayed relations between cops and communities.
It turns out there may be a reason for Mr. Lynch’s relative silence.
According to Edward Hayes, a lawyer who advised Mr. Lynch during his campaign, the P.B.A. president told him that he would withhold criticism of the Mayor in exchange for favorable treatment from City Hall during upcoming contract negotiations. Police officers are furious with their current contract, which gave them meager raises.
“[Mr. Lynch] told me after that meeting that the Mayor promised him good treatment if he’d avoid criticizing him,” Mr. Hayes told The Observer . “I told him he was crazy.”
But Mr. Lynch adamantly denied any deal. “Unequivocally false,” he said. “I wish there were such a deal.” The Mayor’s press office didn’t return a call.
In the end, the reluctance of some critics may do little to repair relations between City Hall and the cops.
“We’re frustrated, we’re angry, we’re trapped in the middle,” Mr. Loud said. “It’s time to put the gun away and go and work with the community. All they ever see is the cop giving out tickets or stopping you for no seatbelts. It’s time to show a different face.”