The recent shooting of two auxiliary police officers in Greenwich Village points up to all of us, including the regular uniformed police -- that no area, including relatively low crime areas like Greenwich Village, SoHo, Noho and Tribeca - is safe from occasional violent acts. It is a dangerous job which is underappreciated and underpaid.
It is one of the reasons why there are frequently justified criticisms that New York City Police officers are not paid nearly enough - as compared to, for example, the Southampton Town Police, where hassling Guatemalans on bicycles without papers is about as dangerous as that job gets for $100 grand a year after 5 years. Four years ago an off duty Quogue officer shot one of the local immigrants for waving a tree branch at him.
But, while we all realize that being a cop is a difficult job and wonder why someone would choose to pick such dangerous work, many of us have come to accept the fact that family tradition, psychological make-up, esprit de corps, and a variety of other factors, all play a part in one's decision to join the Police Force for a living. It's not just a job.
Somewhere between the early 60's during which police became "pigs" and the 1940's during which there was a near-reverence for the "men in blue" --lay the typical reaction of the average bear in dealing with a perspective on the average cop.
Police Officers are not social workers. They deal with aggravation and tedium on a daily basis far more of the time than we can even imagine. Their job is to fight crime and keep us safe. They are hired to protect us from the bad guys.
But, something else has been happening lately. The Police in lower Manhattan have been having trouble distinguishing between the criminals and the law-abiding citizens that they have been hired to serve and protect.
Several incidents have occurred recently in which the police reaction to mundane requests for help have been answered with -- what can only be described as -- ranging from indifference to hostility.
Right here in River City.
Yes. Right here, where violent crime is virtually non-existent.
The First, and to a lesser degree the Fifth and Sixth Precinct are assignments where officers call in favors to be assigned -- rather than wind up being stationed in the South Bronx where it is not always a picnic to do a four to twelve. If your gig is Downtown, you don't have to be assigned to the rubber gun squad to feel safe.
We called on the police recently because after getting into a taxi, the car next to us got scratched. The driver from New Jersey took severe umbrage that his SUV was scratched and got out of his car and started screaming, waving his arms and cursing. You know, the kind of thing you expect from a Jersey driver trying to get to the Holland Tunnel entrance. The Police were called to ensure that the Taxi driver and Jersey driver simply exchanged paperwork - and that the passenger was not attacked.
The Fifth Precinct police arrived - along with hostility, surliness and rudeness. It was actually a shock. The little badge that appeared in the Jersey driver's wallet, of course, didn't help the situation for us.
But, what kind of incentive is this for a law-abiding citizen to enlist the support of the police in a minor incident in which nothing illegal has happened.
In another situation reported recently, a light pole snapped off on a windy street and landed on a car in which a woman and her sleeping baby had just parked. Neighbors contacted the police to make sure the occupants of the vehicle were safe and report the dangerous condition of City property that had obviously not been maintained very well. The several hundred pound metal light severely damaged the car - and it was miraculous that no one was hurt.
The police arrived and simply started writing a report. There were no questions about the shock to the woman and her baby. She was forced to stand in 30-degree temperature outside the police cruiser for nearly half and hour - while protesting that she was cold - as they finished writing. The police controlled the situation, directed her to stand by in the cold, and ignored any concern for her or her baby.
We are not training social workers and we are not training emotional counselors. But, we are training people to "protect AND SERVE."
This does not mean that the police need to carry trays with tea on it, nor does it require them to like us - even when we are polite and conciliatory.
Police training should require some degree of ability to be able to respond politely and considerately when assistance is being asked of them, and when they are being treated in a similar manner.
Hostility towards the police is neither productive nor deserved - unless that is what is expressed by the men in blue toward the average, law-abiding citizen.