NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea defended his officers from attacks they have been suffering in the past two weeks Thursday morning while emphasizing he would weed out bad apples in the department.
At the same time, Shea also trashed the current policy of releasing prisoners from jails “with nothing more than a Metrocard.” The commissioner has been critical of some past criminal justice reforms, in the past blaming those being released with rising crime.
The commissioner held a Twitter Q&A on Thursday morning, but took no questions. His talk this morning comes as morale in the department has sunk to an all-time low and hundreds of officers, many with more than 20 years on the job, were taking early retirement rather than deal with continued protests and unrest.
The New York City police have been under fire since May 28 with massive street demonstrations over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer as his colleagues watched and didn’t interfere. Departments throughout the country were blamed for police brutality and racism, the NYPD a focal point because of their past incidents including Ramarley Graham and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island six years ago.
The protests have resulted in the repeal of 50-a that protects the records of police officers accused of abuse, the introduction of anti-chokehold laws, creation of a special prosecutor for police brutality cases and a call for “defunding” meaning cutting the budget of the NYPD during a time of the rising crime in the city
Shea said he has pulled from every part of the department to bolster forces in the street to prevent looting and lawlessness amidst the massive protests that have jammed city streets. But at the same time, he defended the right of protesters to voice their opinions peacefully.
“Whether it’s today, tomorrow or next week, we will allow people to protest and 99 percent protesting we must give a voice – we don’t have to agree, but we must allow them to have a voice,” Shea said. “The same thing with the press, and we have been criticized. We must make sure the press can do their job – they must photograph and video the good, the bad the ugly – we must let it stand where it stands.”
At the same time, he stood up for cops on the street, saying the last two weeks, officers have worked around the close, away from family with no days off. He said recent protests have remained peaceful, and he was hopeful it would remain that way saying, “there is a ray of hope, so hang in there,” Shea said to cops listening to his broadcast.
He said the morale of the department has suffered, leading hundreds to retire and a few officers acting out and attacking protesters at times.
“The eyes of the world are on us, right at the start of the pandemic and still am,” Shea said. “Turn on a news station, you might see policing using force, and there is a lot of rhetoric on this, but I think we have the best police department in the country,” Shea said.
“Turn on the TV and you hear about reform, but we’ve been reforming for six years, and some of those policies are now being recommended today,” Shea said. “I will tell you, we have already policies on body cameras, de-escalation training, blue courage, a chokehold policy that exists already. We are far from perfect and we will have more conversations.”
He expressed confidence that most people believe in the department as crime hit the lowest levels with “the softest touch.” He said cops are using precision police to go after those who “commit the most crimes.” He said the challenge is to keep crime down while doing neighborhood policing.
He emphasized that New York has the “lowest incarceration rate of any major city,” but at the same time, he took a jab at policy saying, “there is no reason we should be looking down, we should hold our heads up high as society is functioning and you (cops) have done a superb job. When we handle problems that we now handle including opiate abuse, homelessness – when to throw people out of jail with a Metrocard it becomes a police problem. It shouldn’t be in the hands of police, but we do it professionally.”
He cautioned officers that he would not tolerate improper behavior and brutality by officers and he said he’s suspended a “few officers and will probably suspend more.”
“But we are not going back and we are not going to allow people to stay with a shield in this department and this important that those acting inappropriately, we can’t allow that – some people not understanding policing, but right is right and wrong is wrong,” Shea said. “When we see something we will speak up and hold people accountable – period.”