The heat is on. Certainly Mayor Bill de Blasio and his on-his-way-out Police Commissioner Bill Bratton must be a tad bit hot under the collar as they feel the hot glare of New Yorkers enraged by the news that officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a fatal—and prohibited choke-hold—has received $120,000 in salary and overtime pay since the on-camera killing of the father of six in July 2014.
Politico reported that Pantaleo earned $20,000 more in fiscal year 2016 than he did when he was placed on modified duty after Garner’s death. According to the Daily News, gun and badge removed notwithstanding, Pantaleo’s base pay in fiscal year 2014 was $76,488, but he made almost $100,000 when included overtime. In fiscal year 2016, his base pay was $78,026 and yet he finished the year making almost $120,000 while working desk duty.
“The news that Daniel Pantaleo has received extra pay and potential bonuses is extremely upsetting,” said Garner’s daughter Erica. She told the Amsterdam News, “I have come to grips with the reality that this man has been walking free in NYC for the last two years and could potentially bump into myself or my daughter at any time. I have peacefully marched, spoken on panels, written extensive articles and pursued every legal avenue available to get justice for the murder of my father, Eric Garner. I am extremely upset that officer Pantaleo is still on payroll, not to mention receiving bonuses in the very city where I pay taxes. But I’m not surprised. He should be in jail, and I have no faith that Obama’s Justice Department will deliver any justice. This city is corrupt, and I will not stop fighting until I see my father’s killers and the people that are covering it up, brought to justice and held accountable.”
Wednesday morning Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus leadership and House Judiciary Committee, was joined by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, the National Action Network and Communities United for Police Reform to address express outrage at the Pantaleo salary increase.
“I feel like he’s being rewarded for killing someone,” Garner’s sister, Elisha Garner, told PIX11 News.
Meanwhile, de Blasio spokesman Austin Finan stated, “Mayor de Blasio supports incoming Commissioner O’Neill’s ordered review. These overtime payments raise real concerns, and the mayor agrees this practice deserves a close examination.”
The press department at One Police Plaza told the Amsterdam News, “The chief of department has ordered a review of the overtime practices for officers who are currently on modified assignment. When the review is complete the department will implement any necessary changes.”
Pantaleo has been seen by millions worldwide holding Garner in a chokehold, ignoring Garner’s 11 pleas that he could not breathe. The 2014 Staten Island scene capturing Garner’s last moments was recorded on a cellphone by then local resident Ramsey Orta, who has since been subjected to all manner of legal issues. The killing sparked two years of protests and rallies demanding justice.
Monday morning, before the release of the Politico report, Bratton held a breakfast chat ‘n chew at the Citizens Crime Commission Forum at the Sea Level Café in midtown. He emphasized the improvements made on the “five T’s” of policing: trust, training, terrorism, technology and tackling crime.
Many New Yorkers would say that the police have violated several of the five T’s.
Bratton spent his last week on the job doing what he might think is a victory lap around the five boroughs, starting with the forum talk Monday morning. The soon-to-be ex-commissioner talked about the progress he feels the New York Police Department has made since De Blasio reappointed him to the post, the future of the police department and his responses to critics of the force.
“The five T’s speak to the areas where we have made significant gains,” said Bratton.
So how has the NYPD fared in terms of trust lately?
Last week, Bratton said that the department would keep the outcome of disciplinary case of officer Daniel Pantaleo under wraps. When the Amsterdam News contacted the NYPD for a response, they pointed to a state civil rights law that makes records of law enforcement officers confidential.
“The NYPD recently received yet another request pursuant the Freedom of Information Law for information (specifically personnel orders) which include confidential information under New York State Civil Rights Law 50-a,” said a police representative to the Amsterdam News. “The disciplinary records that are included in these orders are prohibited from disclosure under the law, which makes all records used to evaluate performance and continued employment or promotion of police officers throughout the state, confidential. These records cannot be disclosed by the NYPD. unless there is written permission by the affected police officer or a lawful court order.”
Bratton echoed similar sentiments during a meeting with reports after his forum.
“I could care less about the debate,” said Bratton when asked by a reporter about the controversy of using 50-a to shield the ruling on Pantaleo from the public. “The person who advises me, the chief lawyer for the City of New York, has advised us that we aren’t in violation of the law. I could care less about the legal experts, etc. It’s the law. Go change the law.”
After Bratton’s comments, Politico issued its report.
In relation to Garner, Bratton told those at the forum that videos of police brutality were usually triggered by an event that happened before someone pressed record and said it’s usually the alleged victim who started the engagement. Bratton said there would be less use of force in the videos people see “if fewer people would resist arrest.”
Bratton blamed the reaction to these videos on the media playing them constantly during newscasts, but when he talked to reporters after the forum, he championed the video of an elderly woman in the Bronx having her pursed snatched as she sat in her wheelchair. In that case, the video allowed citizens and the police to get a good look at the thief, 37-year-old Adrianne Terry, who was eventually arrested.
Bratton also had some words for those, including the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD and police reform advocates, who have gone on record criticizing so-called Broken Windows policing. Bratton said to the crowd that Broken Windows policing, along with stop-and-frisk, are needed to keep order and that critics are “crazy … they’re out of their minds.” Bratton said these tactics are essential to the police’s “basic mission” of maintaining order.
Outside of the “five T’s,” Bratton was quick to point out how far he thinks policing has come compared with what it used to be. He noted that when he graduated from the academy, there were only three nonwhite officers in his class and only 55 nonwhite officers on the entire force in Boston in the early 1970s. Bratton compared that with the NYPD of today, with women officers, openly gay officers and Muslim officers.
“I believed we have transformed ourselves more than almost any other entity,” Bratton said.
Bratton said that the force has embraced transparency, the importance of public safety and compared policing to “the practice of law … the practice of medicine.” He then used the phrase “the practice of law enforcement,” adding, “because we’re always seeking to perfect ourselves. … Our patients are the citizens.”
Bratton stressed the importance of using outside and inside influences to make the NYPD better, but suggested later on, while explaining the selection of in-coming police commissioner James O’Neill, that true police reform will come from within.
“I leave as optimistic as I came in,” said Bratton to the audience in attendance at the forum. For many New Yorkers, however, skepticism remains.
“Since taking office, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton have focused on rebuilding the bonds between police officers and the neighborhoods they serve—and giving officers the tools and flexibility they need to connect with communities and local leaders,” said de Blasio spokesman Austin Finan. “The mayor and the commissioner have made measurable progress in rebuilding these bonds, all while keeping crime at record lows. Whether it’s speeding up trials, reforming marijuana arrest policies or simplifying the bail system, we are taking aggressive steps to make our criminal justice system fairer and more just while ensuring New Yorkers aren’t unnecessarily arrested or incarcerated.”
But as the city is forced to revisit the horrific Garner case, and now digest the news that Pantaleo remains employed on the tax payer’s dollar, police-community relations are not on the upward trajectory.
National Action Network President the Rev. Al Sharpton stated, “For an officer to choke a man to death on tape and earn more money is ludicrous and a slap in the face to the Garner family. It is a direct insult to those of us fighting along with the Garner family for justice and to every New York City taxpayer who is paying his salary. This officer doesn’t deserve a salary at all, let alone a raise. The real question is not, why is he getting a raise? It is, why has he not yet been prosecuted? This officer is clearly trying to benefit while awaiting the results of the federal government’s grand jury. We remain undeterred and will continue to be relentless in our pursuit of justice.”
Erica Garner noted, “Mayor Bill De Blasio has written the citizens of NYC a bad check. Dante de Blasio promised NYC that his father would bring an end to the stop and frisk era of policing. His father, Mayor Bill De Blasio, has not only failed to fully deliver on that promise, but has decided to engage in business as usual by covering it up and rewarding of officer Daniel Pantaleo. De Blasio has actively opposed the ‘Right to Know Act,’ anti-chokehold legislation and the disclosure of Pantaleo’s disciplinary records. While also retaining officer Pantaleo as a public servant of the city. It is my most sincere prayer that the voters of NYC remember this the next time that he asks us for our vote.”