The NYPD and so many other police departments are gripped by a fear of criticism and what could happen if it has to bend to change. But there’s no reason for fear; reform improved the NYPD in the 1990s, it turned around the LAPD in the 2000s, and it could strengthen New York cops for the next decade. Greater accountability and community contact doesn’t harm policing; it makes it better.
If you’re skeptical, consider this: At the same time that Los Angeles burned amid the Rodney King riots, San Diego—just a few hours away—was calm. It’s not that there weren’t racial tensions or episodes of police brutality, but that for several years—in the wake of San Diego’s own King-esque event and the killing of an officer—police had worked with city and community leaders to build bridges and improve policing. When turmoil came, notes Balko, “those goodwill gestures and the relationships they built paid off,” and police officials “could build a strategy around empathy, not antagonism.”
The NYPD can continue its strike, and its allies can continue their attacks on reformers. But they’re only hurting themselves and the city they serve.