Bill de Blasio’s Bad Bet

He thought a more diverse NYPD would support a liberal mayor. Here’s why it didn’t.

he New York Times reported this week that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was
caught off guard by just how deep the animosity toward him had grown among the
city’s police officers. Though he’d run on a platform of reforming the NYPD and
putting an end to its stop-and-frisk policy, de Blasio had apparently arrived in office
confident he would avoid any lasting discord with the rank and file. It wasn’t until
police protests in the wake of the killing of two NYPD officers last month that the
mayor realized he had meaningfully lost the support of the cops.
One reason for de Blasio’s optimism, according to the Times, was that he and his
advisers were “convinced that the demographics of the rank and file were changing
in his favor.” The mayor’s aides, the paper reported, believed the NYPD was
“morphing into a multicultural force whose members increasingly shared the views of
the diverse group of voters who elected him in a landslide in 2013.”
De Blasio had enjoyed overwhelming minority support in the mayoral election,
winning 96 percent of the black vote and 87 percent of the Latino vote after a
campaign that saw him make numerous visits to black churches, forge alliances with
minority leaders, prominently feature his multiracial family in ads, and speak out
against the effect of stop-and-frisk on the city’s young black men. The mayor and his
aides seem to have assumed that a police department of unprecedented diversity
would be friendlier to a proudly liberal mayor than it might have been in a previous
The logic makes sense: Why wouldn’t a mayor who is overwhelmingly popular with
minorities also be popular with minority cops? And the demographic shifts that de
Blasio and his aides were hanging their hopes on are real. According to the Bureau
of Justice Statistics, the percentage of sworn officers in the NYPD who were
members of a racial minority jumped from 25.5 percent in 1990 to 34.7 percent in
2000. The trend continued in subsequent years: A study by Salomon Alcocer
Guajardo, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, reported that the

including Los Angeles’ and Chicago’s—is that the racial makeup of New York’s police force is getting close to that of the city’s overall population. In a 2006 paper titled “Not Your Father’s Police Department: Making Sense of the New Demographics of Law Enforcement. He wrote via email: When police forces diversify they become less monolithic places intellectually and culturally. and intolerance. but is less so now. as does . The range of acceptable opinions within the department expands.” Sklansky writes. there have been more minorities than whites among patrolling officers since at least 2010. or Native American had climbed to 47. at least in theory. to improve relations between police and minority communities.” I asked Sklansky to elaborate on the ways in which he believes the culture has shifted. “What it comes down to is that most cops are ‘blue’ before they’re anything else.percentage of NYPD officers who were either black.9 percent by 2012. however.” Retired NYPD Detective Sgt. This is progress that promises. Joe Giacalone The result of these trends—which are consistent with changes at other big-city police departments around the country.” Sklansky challenges the view that “police behavior is overwhelmingly determined by a homogeneous occupational subculture … marked by paranoia. According to the NYPD’s own statistics.” He says that was accurate decades ago. But does it also have the potential to make police departments more open to criticism from liberal politicians? The de Blasio administration seems to have thought the answer was yesThat isn’t to say. insularity. “In large part because of the demographic transformation of law enforcement.” Stanford Law School criminal law professor David Sklansky writes that “workforce diversity is at once the most dramatic and the least scrutinized major change that American policing has undergone over the past several decades. Asian. “police officers are far less unified today and far less likely to have an ‘usthem’ view of civilians. Latino. that the changing makeup of urban law enforcement agencies isn’t having an effect on the police culture Giacalone describes.

and the unions that represent them.the range of models for what it means to be a good police officer.. Minority officers often form their own organizations. particularly their partners. an assistant professor of criminal justice at Indiana University–Bloomington. who has studied the views and experiences of minority police officers. More. no matter who they are or where they’re from. -Korean Kat 306 CommentsJoin In Owusu-Bempah said he has interviewed black officers who had “very liberal” political views when they first entered the force that quickly gave way to clannishness.. Still. This might explain why the police protests against de Blasio have not been entirely monolithic——why only some officers elected to turn their backs to him at the funerals last month. As part of the acculturation process—and the toll of regularly witnessing the results of people committing crimes—these officers came to feel suspicion toward the general . There are also important one-on-one interactions: minority officers tend to broaden the perspective of the white officers they work with. Top Comment De Blasio fails. “It was a bit of a rookie move on the part of the mayor to assume that the increased diversity is going to lead to quick changes in the outlook and mentality of police officers. He also might have underestimated the power of police culture to shape the perspective of those who are immersed in it. it seems clear that de Blasio miscalculated the extent to which the Police Department’s growing diversity would affect the stance that officers. while others stayed facing forward. like white 'progressives' do on many issues.” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah. Those organizations also can serve as a bridge to organizations outside the department interested in issues facing minority communities. by assuming race relations is the predominant worldview of any given non-white in this country. and the way they go about their work. which can give voice to views different than the ones taken by the department or by the police union. would take toward him.

and to see themselves and their fellow officers as being separate from the rest of society. their impact will take a long time to reveal itself. was nothing more than wishful thinking. which is an us vs. But law enforcement experts say this is a naive way to think about police culture. “What it comes down to is that most cops are ‘blue’ before they’re anything else.” . “[De Blasio] figured that the demographics were in his favor because it’s not all white cops anymore. The power of the cultural allegiance that emerges from such feelings is significant. The idea that race and ethnicity were going to overpower the loyalty that officers feel toward their department and thus translate into good will for the mayor. told me. they’re still operating within this world that is deeply conservative. “Even though the face of the officers has changed. they argue. “Say you’ve got a bucket of cold water. a NYPD detective sergeant who retired in 2012. It’s going to take a lot of warm drops to warm that bucket.” Owusu-Bempah said. them mentality.” Joe Giacalone.” .” And insofar as demographic changes do matter. no matter how much department demographics evolve. and these new diverse recruits are drops of warm water. He doesn’t understand the police culture. Owusu-Bempah said. I guess. That’s what he failed to take into consideration.public.