We can’t go on like this.
Once again, New York City police officers are reaching into the closet for their dress uniforms, shining their shoes and donning their white gloves, preparing to mourn a murdered brother.
Once again, a police officer’s family is forced to face an emptiness that will never go away.
Once again, our city’s leaders are crowding the stage to praise a fallen hero, and regular New Yorkers from every corner of the city are pouring their hearts out in gestures of support, large and small.
The praise and kindness are appreciated but do little to ease the pain. Police officers are devastated. Our morale is at an all-time low. We’ve been repeating this cycle of grief every few months.
Something has to change, and fine words alone will not change it.
What needs to change is our current public-safety environment, in which criminals again feel emboldened to carry guns, and use them.
Some claim that four murders of New York City police officers in less than a year does not constitute a “pattern,” that these murders are isolated acts perpetrated by members of a small population of “hardened criminals.” They are wrong, and missing the bigger picture.
PO Randolph Holder is not only a murdered police officer. He is also among the more than 275 New Yorkers who have been murdered so far this year, 8.3 percent more than the year before. That number may still be low in comparison to previous decades, but officers on patrol can tell you the “hardened criminals” — however many there are — are growing bolder every day.
If PO Holder’s murderer didn’t think twice about shooting an officer, what chance does the average New Yorker have?
It’s up to lawmakers in City Hall — the ones now praising PO Holder’s heroism — to demonstrate their sustained commitment to restoring order.
Sustained commitment: Not just for a week or two. Not just with one-off policy Band-Aids and conflicting directives. Not just with political triangulation to get through the next press cycle.
Violent offenders should never be “diverted” back onto the streets, and drug dealers should not be given a free pass in the name of treating their “addiction.” The need to keep the criminals who prey on our communities behind bars trumps all other considerations, and any changes to bail or sentencing policy must address that need.
But to put those criminals and drug dealers away, police officers must have constant and meaningful support from city officials. New training, high-tech gadgetry and hollow gimmicks don’t help when every new piece of legislation, oversight report and media firestorm sends the message that proactive policing is a hazard to our careers. Police officers do not shy away from doing our duty, but it takes only one moment of hesitation, one missed opportunity to take a gun off the street, for another police or civilian life to be lost.
This is not a call for any particular policing strategy. It is certainly not a call to set arbitrary numerical targets for police activity. The city’s public-safety apparatus is a machine of many moving parts, but all of them must work in support of police officers — the ones taking the risks — so they can do the job without constantly looking over their shoulders and worrying whether their city will back them up.
During the difficult days ahead, we will hear Randolph Holder called a hero. He was. We will hear policing is a noble profession. It is. We know this praise will be spoken sincerely and felt deeply. Again, we appreciate it.
But we are concerned about what happens after we’ve laid our brother to rest. When our city’s leaders face yet another opportunity to either support police officers or add to their burdens, which will they choose? Police officers want City Hall to be our partner in keeping New York safe. But that partnership can’t succeed if the only time officers feel their efforts are supported and their contributions valued is when one of us has made the ultimate sacrifice.
If the partnership doesn’t succeed, there will be more grief. More New Yorkers and police officers will lose their lives. We simply can’t go on like that. It’s time for officials to take meaningful actions to show they support the police officers on the street.