If you haven’t been living under a rock, you may have heard something recent about the New York Police Department. To summarize: a video surfaced of one Eric Garner chokeholded to death by police, a grand jury declined to even prosecute the officers responsible, protests erupted, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio publicly noted that he’s talked with his black son about dangers from police, a deranged lunatic killed two officers and some blamed their deaths on protestors, many officers turned their back on the Mayor at the officers’ funeral services, the NYPD has almost entirely stopped issuing tickets for non-violent offenses (e.g. parking citations, disorderly conduct).
So New York’s cops, as a group, are not exactly having their best winter ever. However, I have a modest proposal – one that I haven’t seen elsewhere – that I feel could somewhat bridge the current distance between the cops and the Mayor’s office, as well as the cops and the #blacklivesmatter protestors.
First, this cannot be said often enough: being a police officer is a difficult, almost thankless job that very few of us could handle. When danger occurs, they counter the natural human instinct of running away and instead run to the danger, on behalf of all of us. “Police officer” is one of the most honorable professions.
Seeing dozens of uniformed NYPD officers turn their back on their mayor, hearing about their “work slowdown,” one gets the sense that the NYPD is currently in a bit of a snit, a defensive crouch. Certainly I have seen none of them respond to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s interesting claim in Time that singling out bad apples is no more an attack on “police” than singling out pedophile priests is an attack on the Catholic Church. However, one problem with most of the press coverage about this issue is that most of the media (say, TV networks and the New York Times, Slate, Salon, New York, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, etc.) treat anxiety amongst police officers as some kind of recent, ahistorical phenomenon that probably dates back no further than the Ferguson protests (August) and is mostly a reaction to liberal meddlers.
Uh, no. The New York Police Department and police departments around the country have felt a sense of being “under siege” for several years now. If there was any uptick in public support in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, that support is long gone now, a fading memory. The feeling of being under siege is hardly limited to accusations about double standards when it comes to policing black and Latino suspects. Crime has been falling throughout the Obama administration (it may be the Democrat effect: the indigent get less angry as social services improve), but you don’t hear of rising gratitude (say, more money at Policeman’s Balls). Police departments face accusations that they’re over-militarizing their forces. They face newer technologies (say, twitter) that make it way too easy for a given officer’s personal details (say, their home address) to be distributed everywhere, turning accused officers into targets. They face the prospect of mandatory cameras put on every officer, a reform that will probably save lives, but will also certainly result in more discipline and forced retirements (firings).
And perhaps most importantly…here’s something you NEVER, NEVER read in a mainstream media article about DeBlasio and the NYPD…police departments are facing severe challenges to their unions and their pensions. Ever since Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took on public unions and pretty much seemed to win (including winning re-election), every public-sector employee has taken a good look at their savings plan. You see, when these guys were in Police Academy, it wasn’t just a bunch of Steve Guttenberg jokes and Michael Winslow noises. They were promised that after they served 30 years on the force (the number varies a bit by state and county), they could retire and earn 90% of their active salary (again, with some variance) for the rest of their lives. In a time of shrinking budgets, reformers like Walker want to “modify” the promises that were made to these people. Can you blame the cops for feeling a little defensive?
If only there was some way for people like Mayor DeBlasio, and others, to show their support for police without having to shift their previously held positions or give away a lot more money. Oh wait! There is such a way. For those willing to think outside the box. And this goes beyond the NYPD, to all our hard-working cops across America.
My modest proposal: as a bargaining chip (for fewer “slowdowns” or whatever), give police unions the power to establish their own policies on private gun ownership. As much as possible, anyway.
Whoa, you say, where did that come from? What do gun rights have to do with this? Everything. In 2011, Illinois became the last state to lift its ban on carrying concealed weapons. Guns are ubiquitous today in a way that, say, Ronald Reagan could scarcely have imagined. And who suffers from gun ubiquity? Well, mostly people who know a given gun’s owner. But after them, cops. Increasingly, cops get shot. Cops don’t want to get shot. Cops would feel less like living in a bunker if they didn’t need one.
Someone might react to this by darkly warning that if cops control gun policy, we’ll live in a police state where cops hold all the guns. Oh you mean some outer circle of Hell like Denmark? Anyway, such a warning would be preposterous. The Second Amendment’s defenders are robust and have some excellent lawyers. A thousand years will pass, and America will never – NEVER – be a country without private gun ownership. However, right now, in their own self-interest, the police may well support the sorts of reforms that the National Rifle Association supported 40 years ago…trigger locks, longer waiting periods, fewer “armor-piercing bullets,” the sort of licensing required of motor vehicle drivers, and especially restrictions on the sort of weaponry that can fire off dozens of shots within seconds.
Of course, nothing is simple: assuming that police officers and their unions could even agree on a coherent gun policy, the mayor or relevant governor can’t impose it by fiat. Instead, the elected official would simply offer his/her unconditional support of the police union’s proposed gun policy – a radical enough offer in these post-Sandy Hook days where the NRA has cowed most legislators away from even voting in favor of background checks despite 90% approval by Americans (and 74% approval by NRA members). While the NRA will no doubt inveigh that any reform supporter will pay some heavy price, that price won’t be directly financial: the total direct budget expense of a mayor or governor’s office’s reformed policy on guns is zero. Suddenly, Republicans who have never failed to take direct orders from the NRA may find themselves something other than the law-and-order party.
Democrats and Republicans and police unions all see themselves as entrenched in certain battles, and anything this radical would be perceived as ceding some sort of ground…that’s why my modest proposal is a nonstarter. And that’s also why we need a populist president who isn’t beholden to any of those tired, legacied groups. If we want better cops, we should find ways to make their lives better.