Tensions with New York City police go beyond racial issues: commissioner

Law enforcement officers turn their backs on a live video monitor showing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as he speaks at the funeral of slain New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Rafael Ramos near Christ Tabernacle Church in the Queens borough of New York December 27, 2014.   REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


(Reuters) – Tensions between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police are rooted in issues that go beyond racial relations, the police commissioner said on Sunday, a day after the funeral of one of the two officers slain a week ago in their patrol car.

The tensions “involve labor contracts. They involve a lot of history in the city that’s really different from some of what’s going on in the country as a whole,” Bill Bratton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“You need to understand this isn’t just about policing,” he said. “This is about the continuing poverty rates, the continuing growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. It’s still about unemployment issues.”

On Saturday, thousands of police officers assembled outside the funeral of Rafael Ramos turned their backs on the mayor’s eulogy, a sign of disrespect after what they perceived as the mayor’s lukewarm support.

The gunman who shot Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, had pledged to take revenge on police for the deaths of two black men who died in confrontations with white officers last summer.

The black men’s deaths triggered a wave of demonstrations against police violence in New York and other cities, and de Blasio voiced qualified support for the protests.

But the killing of Ramos and Liu triggered a backlash. The head of the city’s largest police union, Patrick Lynch, said the mayor had the officers’ blood on his hands.

De Blasio has not taken questions from journalists since last Monday. Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor, declined to address questions about the tensions directly. “Our sole focus is unifying this city and honoring the lives of our two police officers,” he said in an email.

Bratton defended the mayor on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying the mayor completely supported the police and has secured money for training and safety programs. The commissioner said it was inappropriate for officers to turn their backs on the mayor.

Bratton told NBC the city’s leadership would make an effort to ease the tensions with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

“I think it’s probably a rift that is going to go on for a while longer,” he said. “However, we will be making efforts to sit down and talk with the union leaders.”

On CBS, Bratton said police have investigated more than 50 threats against officers since the deaths of Ramos and Liu.

“Morale in the department at this time is low, there is no getting around that,” he said.

Bratton appeared on the CBS program with Rudy Giuliani, who was generally unequivocal in his support of the police during his two terms as the city’s mayor.

De Blasio was partly at fault for the backlash by police, Giuliani said, but he agreed that officers should not have turned their backs when the mayor spoke.

“He created an impression with the police that he was on the side of the protesters,” Giuliani said. “Some of those protesters were entirely legitimate, some of those protesters were horrible.”

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo.; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Reuters: U.S.

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