The Phaedra Complex

Let us all now acknowledge, that like a character in a reality television show, the NYPD loves to create drama for itself. What else could explain last week’s responses to first, a corruption scandal in the Gun Licensing division and second, the approval from a Federal judge to go ahead with its body-camera program? Like with the antics of Phaedra from Real Housewives of Atlanta, you just know a day of reckoning is ahead.

The department responded in its usual fashion to the indictment of two more officers (in addition to the two officers who pled guilty last year) for accepting bribes to approve gun licenses, by transferring officers from the division and adding more supervisors. It never occurs to anyone in the NYPD to provide a systemic solution to a systemic failure, by perhaps, bifurcating the information gathering process from the application approval process, and by creating a wall so that neither side has contact with or is influenced by the other. But then, perhaps the department did implement something like this, and is being less than transparent about all the changes to the licensing process.

The same cannot be said about the guidelines for the body-camera program, which began last week. On the contrary, the NYPD was very transparent in receiving, and responding, to suggestions from the public about the program’s guidelines: Require officers to record all encounters with citizens? No. Allow citizens to review footage in order to file a complaint? No. Keep officers who are the subject of a complaint from viewing footage before making a statement about their actions? No. Notify a citizen as soon as an officer turns on the camera? No. Establish a disciplinary policy for officers who violate the body-camera guidelines? No.

The department has form for not listening to anyone: it’s ancient history now to recall the complaints surrounding the NYPD’s arrest, interrogation and infiltration of protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention. At the time, then-Commissioner Ray Kelly assured everyone that all was fine, but the $35 million the City has paid out in lawsuits over these tactics would seem to suggest otherwise. We will never know how simple it might have been for the department to utilize legal tactics and work with protesters, who after all, were peaceful, instead of going after them as if they were al-Qaeda.

Last week’s actions were the opening act to a drama that will close years from now, with the City paying for lawsuits and the NYPD shuffling some personnel and offering gestures that amount to “nothing to see here, move on.” The department doesn’t understand that defects can be cured, or avoided, by measures of accountability that define goals that are transmitted to the public in a transparent manner. It fails to grasp that, in general, if you give a person a gun and a shield, and allow them to do whatever they want to do, they most likely will do just that.