As New York City has faced a week-and-a-half of protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, a debate has raged over the policing of the protests.
While much media coverage has focused on instances of police brutality and other misconduct, often captured on bystander video and posted to social media, others have argued that Mayor Bill de Blasio has improperly restrained the police, allowing the protests to turn into riots and looting.
The heads of New York’s police unions have had particularly harsh words for the mayor and others.
In an interview with Hamodia on Monday, Paul DiGiacomo, President of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, the union representing New York Police detectives, discusses the protests, the mayor’s response, and how he believes his members have been “abandoned” by city officials.
We’re about 10 days into these protests in New York, as well as nationwide and around the world. What are your thoughts?
It’s a very difficult time in the history of this city, and it’s a very difficult time for the NYPD. They didn’t do anything wrong. No one agrees [with] what happened to Mr. Floyd; that was disgusting behavior. Nobody deserves to die in the hands of the police, especially when they’re handcuffed, in that situation. No one here in the New York City Police Department agrees with [what happened to Floyd].
Our detectives and our members are out there protecting property and protecting the people of this city, and are being demonized, and I feel that’s unfair.
Being demonized by whom?
By protesters and by elected officials. There aren’t too many people that aren’t trying to demonize us at this time.
Can you name specifically the elected officials you’re referring to?
The governor, the mayor, the speaker of the city council, members of the city council – there are very few that support us, Chaim Deutsch being one, Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, Kalman Yeger. There are very few in that body of 51 council people that support the police, and it’s quite sad.
What is the morale right now among your members, and the NYPD in general?
They’re abandoned. They feel abandoned by city officials. You can say it in one word: they feel abandoned. Nobody’s standing by their side.
And the only people that are going to stand by them, six months down the line, when the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the Internal Affairs and the civil-rights-violation suits come in, are the police unions here in the city.
What is your opinion of the way that Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Terence Monahan, have handled the situation?
They’re under very, very difficult times right now, and I think they’re doing the best job that they can. We’ve been in contact with them on a regular basis and we’ve expressed concerns that we have to them, and they’re trying to address them.
So your criticism of the officials does not include the top brass of the NYPD.
The top brass of the NYPD are being told what to do from City Hall.
The issue the protesters are protesting, is what they refer to as institutional racism in police departments and governments in general across the country, the whole idea of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests. Do you agree with that?
Of course not. I mean, you know, 50-60% of the NYPD is made up of people of color, and they’re out there doing a very, very difficult job at a difficult time. It’s a very difficult job when there’s no pandemic and there are no demonstrations. It’s much more difficult under those circumstances.
And since 2001, we have had 21 detectives that lost their lives in the line of duty, and 13 of them were people of color. So, these detectives are out there and gave their lives up to the people of the city, and it’s about time that the elected officials recognize that.
The mayor has repeatedly said that the vast majority of protesters are peaceful. Is that accurate?
From what we’ve seen the last couple of nights, you know, you have your First Amendment right to protest and if you act properly and protest within the guidelines of the law, there’s not a problem. It’s that there is an organized criminal element that’s capitalizing on these times when these protests are taking place. They’re not abiding by the laws. They are breaking into stores, stealing property, carrying sticks, carrying knives, carrying hatchets. And that criminal element is putting the protesters in as much danger as they are the rest of the people in the city.
Is it true, though, what the mayor and many people are saying, that the vast majority are peaceful?
That appears to be, yes, the vast majority are peaceful. But the criminal element is amongst those peaceful protesters. And I believe that the protesters are being led by some of the criminal element, instead of by community leaders such as clergy and the community leaders that should be leading these protests peacefully.
There’s been some discussion that some of the violent rioters are coming in from outside the city. Is that correct?
Yes, I believe that is correct. They’re here just to break the laws and cause disruption in the City of New York.
Some police officers, both in New York and around the country, have shown solidarity with the protesters, kneeling with them. Do you support this?
I don’t support kneeling right now. I am in support of the First Amendment right of people to protest, and if they want police reform, we understand that, and we should be at the table … trying to correct whatever [needs] to be corrected right now. But to disrupt the city and commit crimes I do not agree with.
And why specifically do you oppose kneeling?
That’s just my personal opinion.
Is it because kneeling disrespects the national anthem, because it originates from the refusal to stand by the anthem at football games?
No, that has nothing to do with it.
The Manhattan District Attorney said he’s not going to prosecute [those arrested for] unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct. The Brooklyn DA said he’s not going to prosecute [those arrested for] unlawful assembly or violating curfew. So only the violent rioters or looters will prosecuted, but not those arrested for other crimes. What is your reaction to that?
There are laws in place that should be enforced. And it’s the DAs’ obligation to enforce these laws and to prosecute them. I understand a right to protest, but there are certain laws that you have to abide by, and if you’re not abiding by them, it’s the DAs’ obligation to move forward on those cases.
And as far as the violent people that are out there protesting and assaulting members of the NYPD, I filed a civil suit against an individual that has assaulted and resisted arrest with one of my detectives [the union on Friday sued Jose Rivera of the Bronx, alleging he assaulted NYPD Detective Joseph Nicolosi on June 1, while the detective was attempting to arrest him for the looting of a CVS store in Manhattan] and I will do so moving forward. If any of these protesters, or criminals that are in the protest, assault a New York City detective, I will push for the highest criminal charges against them, and we will file civil suits against these individuals.
Is this the first time that your union has filed civil suit against someone accused of assaulting a detective?
As far as I know, yes.
Have you had any direct discussions with the Brooklyn or Manhattan DAs to express your unhappiness that they’re not prosecuting the arrests?
I did try to reach out to the DA in Manhattan, with no success. And I reached out to the Brooklyn DA … and we had conversations regarding the attempted murder of one of my detectives in the 71st precinct, in which a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the van. Thank G-d it did not ignite, or we would have had four members of the NYPD engulfed in flames. But that case has since been taken on a federal level.
But have you had discussions specifically about the fact that they’re not prosecuting the lower level offenses related to the protests?
Yes. I have expressed our dismay with their thought process on it. I don’t agree with it. They have their opinion and we have ours.
Both Manhattan and Brooklyn?
There’s been a lot of talk that some police officers have used over-aggressive, improper, heavy-handed tactics. Can you comment, either in general about the police conduct, or about any specific cases?
First let me say this: There is a tremendous amount of oversight in the NYPD. You have the Internal Affairs division, you have the Civilian Complaint Review Board, you have the district attorney’s office, you have the U.S. attorney, you have the attorney general – there is a tremendous amount of oversight to monitor what’s going on within the NYPD. There’s oversight like no other profession in the world, on the NYPD. So if there is wrongdoing, it will be investigated and dealt with, I’m sure.
But you know what? Until one of these elected officials or anyone who wants to condemn the police, until you have walked in our shoes in one of these riot situations, you know, you really can’t comment. It’s a very stressful situation to be in. They’re having urine thrown at them. They’re having rocks thrown at them. They’ve been shot at. Molotov cocktails thrown at them. This is a lot for any human being to take, and they’re out there doing a difficult job at a difficult time.
How many NYPD members have been injured during the protests?
Close to 300.
You sent a message to your members on Sunday which is posted on your website. It reads, in part, “There is ZERO BACKING for the men and women in blue by our elected officials. Their decisions are based on appeasing the loudest anti-police protestors instead of fact. It is time now to make sure our careers and families are protected. The [Detectives’ Endowment Association] strongly urges you to have the least amount of interaction with the public that is necessary to fulfill your official duties.”
You go on to say, “We must reassess how we police New York City and the life and death risks we take every day in order to keep people safe.”
It sounds like you’re saying that right now, because you feel that you do not have the support of the political leadership, you’re basically telling your members to back off, and even if it means less security for New Yorkers, you just don’t want your members to put their own careers and lives in jeopardy. Is that correct?
I’m referring to the social-distancing policy and the curfew policy, in which these detectives were put in harm’s way. They go to arrest someone, and that turns into a resisting arrest, and an assault on a member of the service. And we just spoke about how the Manhattan DA and the Brooklyn DA are not prosecuting these cases. So my suggestion to them is to de-escalate the situation and back away and not get into a resisting arrest because at the end of the day, there’s just going to be no backing from the elected officials, and the only one left holding the bag later on down the line when there’s a civil lawsuit or an Internal Affairs investigation is the police officer or detective on the street.
There are talks about police reform, and it seems there’s definitely going to be something coming out of City Hall and Albany, and maybe even Washington. Do you believe there’s any sort of police reform that is appropriate?
Like I said before, the NYPD is probably the most scrutinized police department in the world.
But if you want to have police reform, you need the police at the table to tell our side of the story, and [engage in] dialogue on the reform. For people that don’t understand policing and don’t know policing to make reform, it doesn’t make common sense.
So you’re willing to have some discussions about reform, but you don’t think the elected officials are interested in hearing what you have to say?
Correct. Not just myself, it’s the NYPD. Police in general should have a seat at the table to go over some of the reforms that they’re looking to enact.
With bail reform, we told the elected officials that wouldn’t work and would put the people of this city in great danger, and it did. And they had to go back and reform the reform again, and that that’s what’s going to happen with this police reform, I believe. I think the people of this city are going to be put in danger. And the people of this city are going to suffer. Shootings are up, homicides are up right now. And that’s because of the bail reform. They keep letting bad people out on the street to commit more crimes and victimize people of the city, and it’s very sad.
Have you personally had, in the last 10 days, any direct discussions with the mayor or police commissioner, and if so, can you share the nature of those conversations?
I had conversations with both regarding the safety of our members, number one, and the way that some of these protests were handled, in that the Emergency Services Unit, Mounted Unit, and Disorder Control Unit were not utilized to preserve the safety of people and property.
We discussed different things, but I’ll keep details of those conversations between us.
The mayor has said he’d like the NYPD to use a “light touch” in policing the protests. Do you believe that he’s held back the police from using its full force against the protesters, and if so, have you discussed that with him?
There’s one thing being a protester, and one thing being a criminal opportunist. People have a right to peacefully protest. But when you victimize the people in this city and destroy property, the New York City Police Department knows how to stop that. We’ve done it in the past, we’ve stopped riots before, and there’s no one better. We have the best-trained Emergency Service Unit in the world, we have the best-trained Mounted Unit, we have the best-trained Disorder Control Unit in the whole world, and they know how to do the job. If they were given the opportunity to do it to do it, these criminals would have been stopped much sooner.
Finally, many protesters have been calling for defunding the police, and Mayor de Blasio actually said yesterday that he will make some budget cuts to the police and take that money and use it for programs in communities of color.
Who’s going to suffer during this budget cut? The people of this city.
The police department does everything. They do domestic violence, they do community affairs. They’re out in the communities doing work every day to help the people of this city. Homeless outreach. Everything is dumped on the police department. And then they want to cut the budget, and take those jobs away from the police. If that’s what they want to do, then knock yourself out. But we do a tremendous job, the New York City Police Department, in the community, and the Police Athletic Leagues, and the domestic violence squads, abused children, you know, there is no job out there that the New York City Police Department doesn’t do. If they want someone else to do it, and they think they can do a better job, go right ahead.
Any final thoughts?
I ask the people of this city to support the police at a very difficult time. And just remember that there’s a fine line between the stores being broken into in the neighborhoods in which you live, and these criminals coming into your residence and victimizing you at the same time. And the only thing that’s going to stop that and the only line in the sand to protect the people of the city is the New York City Police Department. Once you lose law and order, we could lose everything. And the people should really start to realize that and support the police.