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Commentary By Bob McManus

When the Police Commissioner Starts Playing Politics, Trouble Won't Be Far Behind

Cities, Public Safety New York City, Policing, Crime Control

Bill de Blasio, who nearly lost his mayoralty to a police mutiny, seems to have found a top cop he can love. Or, at least, one who also embraces politicized policing.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, foot squarely in mouth, last Friday declared the city to be “soft on crime,” and the reaction was swift and predictable.

“This absurd statement needs to be renounced immediately,” growled the mayor. “To willingly state we’re soft on crime, it’s incredibly insulting,” echoed Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

Thereupon Sessions backed off: “For four decades, New York has been a fabulous city for law enforcement,” he said.

Well, two decades is more like it — plus the fits-and-starts trek back to the bad old days that has characterized the de Blasio incumbency. Much better had the AG said NYC’s leaders very much want to be soft on crime — but they don’t dare. Certainly not in an election year.

De Blasio, recall, all but appointed Al Sharpton police co-commissioner after the death of Eric Garner in 2014 — setting off a chain of events that led to increasingly violent anti-cop demonstrations which themselves culminated in the assassination of two patrolmen and a near-revolt of rank-and-file officers.

It was enough to sober up any ideologue, even de Blasio, who effectively ceded public safety policy to then-Commissioner Bill Bratton — who, in turn, pretty much stuck with the proactive broken-windows policing strategies perfected during the Giuliani/Bloomberg years.

This largely accounts for New York’s continuing status as America’s safest big city even as urban crime burgeons elsewhere.

But times change, as do mayoral sensibilities. De Blasio, whose policies have led to increasing violence in public schools, has been a strong advocate of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York. And he has allowed himself to be browbeaten into supporting a shutdown of Rikers Island — even though he has no clue what to do with its inmates.

Plus Bratton has departed — and with him, it seems, any appreciation of the fact that law enforcement and politics properly don’t mix.

And O’Neill, more’s the pity, isn’t bothered by this at all. He came to One Police Plaza last fall fully prepared to substitute politically correct “community policing” for the hard-nosed broken-windows law enforcement that had pulled the city out of the abyss a quarter-century ago. And he stands shoulder to shoulder with de Blasio on the “sanctuary cities” movement.

New York refuses as a matter of (pernicious) principle to help the feds enforce immigration law. It’s not alone, and Washington’s threatening a cutoff of police assistance funds to the self-proclaimed “sanctuaries.”

De Blasio, with O’Neill bobbing in his wake, has been particularly high-profile in opposition.

On one level, all of this is political theater. The sums Washington is threatening to withhold are miniscule in the context of New York’s $85 billion-plus budget, and the sanctuary movement itself probably won’t survive the next high-profile crime committed by an illegal alien.

Of more concern must be the enthusiasm O’Neill has shown for the sanctuary movement. It’s one thing for a police commissioner to stand by and watch politicians embarrass themselves with wrongheaded rhetoric; it’s quite another to double down on the malarkey — particularly when the issue is the rule of law.

O’Neill, by endorsing New York’s refusal to help enforce federal immigration law, is undercutting respect for the law in general, while setting a precedent for selective enforcement in other areas.

As Bratton and the principles he brought to One Police Plaza fade from the debate, the pressure for de Blasio to abandon broken-windows law enforcement will only grow stronger. Again, he took the first step by embracing “community” — i.e., social-work — policing. And O’Neill, again, has endorsed that approach.

By definition, this encourages — if not requires — beat cops to ignore obvious violations of the law. The process begins with minor offenses, but it doesn’t end there — as the city discovered during the John Lindsay years.

Doubt it?

The current administration’s decision to ignore hard-learned lessons and selectively enforce the vagrancy laws led directly to an explosion of aggressive panhandling and worse that once again bedevils the city. Bratton signed off on that, and no doubt regrets it.

Will O’Neill make the same mistake? It would seem that he already has.

This piece orignally appeared in the New York Post


Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal. He retired as editorial page editor of the New York Post in 2013 and has since worked as a freelance editor, columnist, and writer.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post