What's happening to the Police Department?
The ugly mob of cops protesting the indictment of their fellow officers in the Bronx was just the latest in a long series of awful incidents that call out for a serious response.
The most logical of which would be for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to retire.
Kelly, 70, has been in charge of the police department throughout the Bloomberg administration, which New Yorkers are beginning to think of as beginning somewhere around the time Christopher Columbus got his mariner's license. He was also commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, and it's easy to make the argument that it was Kelly, not the Giuliani administration, who presided over the beginning of the great crime turn-around in the city.
The man deserves his due, but he has been with us for a long time, and he seems to have lost his capacity for surprise, shock, or outrage.
"I think it's understandable that officers rally around when there's a time of trouble," Kelly said when the Bronx cops swarmed around the courthouse where there fellow officers were being charged with more than 1,600 criminal counts. Most of them had to do with fixing traffic tickets, but others included grand larceny, helping a man beat an assault charge and leaking information about an ongoing investigation. And oh yeah, there was the guy who allegedly helped a friend sell drugs, during which enterprise he provided said friend with a special parking placard. Don't want the drug dealer getting any parking tickets that somebody would then have to go to the trouble of fixing.
The Times reported that the protesting cops not only applauded the defendants when they appeared; they also jeered and insulted a court officer who came out to try to calm them down. They waved signs saying: "It's a Courtesy Not a Crime."
No. Fixing tickets is the kind of minor-league corruption that undermines everything. It's the start of the slippery slope that leads to cops looking the other way when their fellow officers break the big laws.
Everyone in New York is reading about these cases -- if they managed to avoid the news before, the 500-odd demonstrating cops made sure they got the news last weekend. Almost everyone in New York is contemplating the fact that they never got a ticket fixed and concluding that the system works only for the insiders. Eventually, many of these people will be called to serve on juries.
The Bronx in particular has always been a tough place to take a criminal case to court because juries tended to be reflexively anti-cop. Now, it's that much tougher.
And let's face it, the tickets getting fixed were not for the nuns at the orphanage or the head of the Bronx Boy Scouts; they were the friends and relatives of other officers. And all this fixing took a lot of effort. If the cops -- mostly union officials -- who took care of all these courtesies had been devoting their time to crime-fighting, the Bronx might have a murder rate lower than Bridgehampton.
Kelly is not a man given to shows of emotion, but in the recent long series of instances of police behaving badly, he's been stoic to the point of defensiveness. Kelly did say he was not happy about having to announce "for the second time this week that police officers have been arrested for misconduct." But one of the Bronx cops was charged with toting around drugs for his narcotics-dealing buddy. The earlier announcement had involved accusations that current and former members of the NYPD had been bringing illegal firearms into the city. That seems to rise a little above the "misconduct" level.
This is the department that brags about having anti-terrorist equipment that can take down a plane in the air. Yet it can't show enough restraint to refrain from fixing a buddy's ticket, tear-gassing Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that had already been rendered helpless by police restraints, or behaving in a civil manner when fellow cops are hauled into court.
There have been rumors that Kelly might run for mayor. The last thing New York needs is another burned-out chief executive. Let's give him a banquet, send him on to a lucrative retirement as a security consultant, and bring in some fresh blood that's capable of looking more than depressed when the police force runs amok.