Why Has the NYPD Been Airing So Many Grievances in the Press Lately?

By
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18:  New York Police Commissioner William Bratton prepares to speak to the media at a news conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to address the recent death of a man in police custody on July 18, 2014 in New York City. The mayor has promised a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island yesterday. A 400-pound, 6-foot-4 asthmatic, Garner (43) died after police put him in a chokehold outside of a conveinence store for illegally selling cigarettes.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
You talk, I'll listen.Photo: Spencer Platt/2014 Getty Images

Ray Kelly ran a very tight ship as police commissioner — in more ways than one, and not always productively, but never more iron-fistedly than when it came to the NYPD and the media. Kelly was the one and only voice of the department, monopolizing the microphone at press conferences and cracking down quickly on cops who dared to talk to reporters on their own.

Things have loosened up in the Bill Bratton era, to say the least. Some of the new style is healthy: Bratton regularly shares credit with his deputies and gives them speaking parts at press conferences. But today’s tabloids feature a startling doubleheader of cop chattiness.

The Post’s front page blares the third installment in a series of stories about comptroller Scott Stringer’s security detail, with anonymous cops claiming they’d be hunting down ISIS if they didn’t have to ferry Stringer and his family around. Smaller, but more surprising, is a story inside Friday’s Daily News: Deputy Inspector Steven Griffith, the commander of the Morningside Heights precinct, bluntly second-guesses Bratton’s rearrangement of brass at One Police Plaza.

All this was set in motion, indirectly, back in February, when Mayor Bill de Blasio and his staff got involved with the arrest of Bishop Orlando Findlayter for traffic violations. Those City Hall phone calls quickly got into the papers.

More recently there’s been the tale of indignant cops who were supposedly ordered to fix a headlight on a car belonging to the mother of Eric Garner. Plus the quarreling over the police-bashing boyfriend and paperwork omissions of Rachel Noerdlinger, the former aide to Reverend Al Sharpton turned aide to First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Last week the turmoil escalated with headlines about McCray herself, who the Post claimed reacted furiously to the resignation of Chief Phillip Banks III —a reaction denounced as fiction by de Blasio and Bratton in an extraordinary press conference.

There are multiple motives behind each of these tales. The “Stop and Fix” controversy appeared to be fueled in part by jealousy over the imminent promotion of a Staten Island assistant chief. Some of the “law enforcement sources” quoted in recent stories are most likely police union leaders, who are stirring the pot in service of policy and salary disagreements with de Blasio. The Stringer episode has spiraled pettily downward after his security detail was reassigned, apparently after disputes about its diligence. Then there’s the underlying disenchantment among old-guard cops over the mayor’s chumminess with Sharpton.

One common element, though, is the newfound willingness of cops to air their grievances to reporters. Bratton is a big boy, plenty sophisticated at playing the media game. Yet it was very strange that the police commissioner felt the need, on Wednesday, to publicly volunteer that rumors about him resigning are wrong.

Maybe, as McCray suggested in a blog post, the real problem is small-minded resistance to overdue progressive change. Or maybe all the noise is an indication of how hard it is to enforce a political agenda and the laws at the same time.