I was initially afraid that the guys in my office would resent being fodder for this column. One partner, Sean, was a little hurt that I compared him to a dog on Tuesday. Other than that, they have been supportive and creative. My other partner, Joe, was especially entertaining in the car today. I think he was hoping for a third “Diary” appearance. He seems genuinely pleased at the attention. The captain came by my office today to see what was in the next column.
While I think the Diary was supposed to narrate my typical week, any week that I appear in print every day is not going to be typical for me. I got a phone call yesterday from a book publisher. It would be nice to believe that I got this attention because I write so damn well, but it is because I am a cop, and the NYPD is very much in the news these days. I suppose I would be guilty of a degree of blindness if I didn’t mention certain current events that we cannot avoid every day in the office and on the street.
The principal source of NYPD’s most recent notoriety has been the death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of four police officers in the Bronx. His death has sparked a series of protests against the police department and the mayor. The protesters have alleged that in addition to shooting this unarmed man, the NYPD has been stopping and searching minorities without proper justification. I am afraid that I am not going to surprise anyone with my opinion: Diallo’s death was a tragic, tragic mistake, but sending the cops who shot Diallo to jail would be an error. Any law enforcement officer will agree that the three things he fears most are dying, the death of a partner, and the taking an innocent life. As for stopping people without proper cause, I can only offer my experience having been on the job a while. I work in a unit that made more than 10,000 arrests last year, and I have never seen a person stopped because his race made us think he was doing something wrong.
The morale of the department is suffering. Walking out of headquarters, faced with the protests that go on there, I see cops sadly shaking their heads with looks of dismay on their faces. The protests make the papers almost every day and that makes our coffee and doughnuts taste rotten.
There is nothing more dramatic than the look and sound of a victim of a serious crime, someone who has been grievously assaulted, raped, robbed of a loved one. It is that sight that prompted many of the cops I know to join the department. That is a sight that isn’t nearly as common in New York as it used to be. The city is better than it has been in my memory. Granted, I am a white male and life is often different for minorities. Nowhere, however, has crime dropped and quality of life improved more than in the poorest neighborhoods in the city, where many minorities are forced to live. This improvement is largely a result of aggressive policing in those areas, and that may cause the perception that we target blacks and Hispanics.
The alternative, to blanket the city evenly with police, would benefit a lot of very nice, predominately white neighborhoods. I would love to see a couple of police cars on my parents’ block every night, but that would be to ignore the plight of the worse-off neighborhoods. The worse-off neighborhoods are filled with parents, too.
There are those who say they fear the police more than the criminals. While that is absurd, the perception that we are unfair or brutal to people in this city, whatever their background, is unfortunate. It is unfortunate, and it cannot be ignored. There can be no denying that New York has come a long way. A lot of people would like to take credit for this progress, and I cannot say what portion of the credit should go to whom. It seems like there should be enough to go around. I do believe that the NYPD has achieved a big portion of the success. This success is so fragile, though, and could be undone so quickly and with such heartbreaking results.