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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

NYPD Confidential: Police reform will be uphill battle

Two NYPD officers responding to a robbery in

Two NYPD officers responding to a robbery in progress at a commercial business in the Bronx were shot and wounded, the NYPD said. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Whether Patrick Lynch wins re-election to a fifth term as president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, no one should underestimate the union's clout or the obstacle it presents to implementing meaningful reform.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spent his first year in office antagonizing the rank and file while imagining he could effect reforms. But a Lynch defeat, unlikely as it may seem, is no guarantee that those running against him -- a slate of white guys -- will be any more amendable to the mayor's positions.

Lynch may stand lower in New Yorkers' estimation than even the Rev. Al Sharpton. According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, the vast majority of New Yorkers agreed that Lynch's statement that the mayor had "blood on his hands" for last month's assassination of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu was extreme, and criticized his orchestrating the back-turning on the mayor as he attended their funerals.

But let's not overlook Lynch's accomplishments, including bringing an organization into the 21st century that a generation ago was but a step removed from organized crime.

Thirty years ago, the PBA's chief investigator died on Rikers Island after being charged with bribing witnesses to lie for crooked cops. Twenty years ago, its longtime counsel and two of his acolytes went to prison for extortion involving another police union -- the Transit PBA. Nobody has been charged with anything close to that on Lynch's watch, which includes the NYPD ticket-fixing scandal.

But what about effecting police reform? It's difficult. A settlement in the case of Abner Louima, who was sodomized by Officer Justin Volpe in 1997, didn't mention any substantive change in police procedure. One proposal concerned a civilian panel to try police brutality cases; it became the ineffectual Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Another was more training for the cops. Heard that one recently?

Meanwhile, de Blasio maintains he can't apologize for his words and actions, as Lynch and others have suggested he do. "You can't apologize for your fundamental beliefs," the mayor has said.

But what are his "beliefs"?

Do they include a belief that it is appropriate to secretly call a chief and demand that a political supporter be released from jail?

Do they include a belief that he should shrug off anti-police postings of the son and boyfriend of Rachel Noerdlinger, his wife's former chief of staff?

Do they include his belief that Sharpton is "the nation's greatest civil rights leader" and that the more that people attack him, "the more I want to hang out with him"?

That brings us to the latest development in this muddled mess -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo possibly mediating between de Blasio and the NYPD unions. Cuomo says the standoff is "unsustainable," but what exactly is there to mediate if neither side acknowledges it may have been partly at fault?

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has struggled to straddle this divide. He asked cops not to turn their backs on the mayor at the Liu funeral, while adding they would not be disciplined if they did. Some officers did so, anyway.

Perhaps to keep their support, he has gone on national television and criticized the mayor, most recently for de Blasio's actions on Noerdlinger. Let's see how sustainable that is.

Perhaps Cuomo can begin by offering each side some words they can both hide behind: "I regret I may have said some things that could have been misunderstood."

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