At Senate Hearing, a Call for More Cops and Tougher Laws

Tougher penalties for those who threaten and commit violence against cops, new equipment for law enforcement, banning tinted windows and even sealing the blueprints of iconic buildings from the public were among the recommendations put forth by New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at a state Senate hearing on police and public safety Wednesday in New York City.

Other NYPD initiatives are already underway. Bratton highlighted several undertaken by the police department with an eye to improving relations between police officers and the communities they patrol, including a much-publicized, three-day training course focusing on minimizing physical confrontation, safe restraining tactics and cultural sensitivity training. Bratton also said he looks forward to rolling out the NYPD’s body-camera pilot program on broader scale in the near future. 

“American policing is going through a difficult time right now,” Bratton testified before state lawmakers. “It’s a time of great challenge, but also great opportunity—the opportunity to re-evaluate the fundamental manner in which we do our work.”

Bratton said that a $160 million investment in smartphone, tablet and computer technology at the NYPD would enhance communication and accuracy when dealing with situations in the community, but that while additional funding for other upgrades would be welcome, installing bullet-proof windows for police cars, as some have suggested, would not be a wise move. He estimated that it would cost $50,000 to outfit each of the force’s 2,800 marked police vehicles with bulletproof glass, and warned that since such glass is impervious to smashing, it does not meet highway safety standards.

“An officer trapped in a vehicle would not be able to get out by breaking the window,” Bratton said. “Alternatively … it might be worthwhile to explore installing ballistic panels inside vehicle doors to provide an additional measure of protection.”

Both Republican and Democratic state senators attended the hearing, the first in a series of several precipitated by the December shooting deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn. Testimony taken from law enforcement officials, police union leaders and the district attorneys for Manhattan and Brooklyn will be used to inform policy-making decisions in the upcoming legislative session, in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo will focus on criminal justice and police reform.

While Democratic and Republican lawmakers differed in their views on many issues—the validity of a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner, for example—those who testified largely took a more conservative attitude when it came to the problems facing police. The governor’s proposal to implement an independent monitor to review certain cases of alleged police misconduct, for example, was widely viewed as overly bureaucratic, if not harmful.

“The thought of creating another stratum of bureaucracy—a.k.a. an independent monitor, is both fool hardy and deserving of little consideration,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the union representing the NYPD’s rank-and-file officers, blamed unnamed public officials for “advancing” public anger at police, echoing his recent criticism of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Lynch called for a moratorium on any city legislation that would affect criminal justice and police procedures, saying that such matters should be dealt with in Albany.

Lynch also argued that public animosity toward the cops on the street is misplaced and unfair.

“It is at least partially a result of policing policies that police officers had no role in creating, and many times we’ve actively opposed,” Lynch said. “The PBA, for example, pressed for state legislation in 2010 to make quotas for 'stop, question and frisk,' and for all other types of police activity, illegal … but numerically-driven policies that deprive police officers of their discretion persisted, and in the past number of years we’ve seen a predictable backlash in the form of court decisions and legislation introduced at the local level.”

One thing lawmakers on both sides of the aisle did agree with Lynch about is the perceived need for more cops in the city. The number of NYPD officers is currently under 35,000—down from a high of 41,000 in 2001.

In his call for new recruits, Republican state Sen. Martin Golden, a former NYPD officer, emphasized that more murders and rapes occurred in the city over the past month than during the same period last year. Democratic state Sen. James Sanders of Queens, a former U.S. Marine, disagreed with Lynch about the need for an independent monitor in cases of police brutality and blasted cops for turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio during the funerals of fallen officers, but he echoed the call for a larger police force.

“We certainly need to look at staffing,” Sanders said to Lynch. "You couldn’t possibly have community policing—we don’t have enough police to do it.” 

In questions directed at Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, state Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem asked what he thought of the push to begin videotaping police interrogations, an initiative that is also supported by members of the Assembly.

“We actually videotape on Staten Island,” Donovan replied. “It’s still in the experimental stages. ... Right now for detectives only and only for certain crimes … but I expect we will eventually roll it out for any crime.”