Is NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton okay? He seems like he’s at the end of his rope. He’s been on a tear of saying some crazy shit in public the past few days: on Sunday he said he needed 450 new cops so he could fight ISIS, and on Wednesday, Capital New York reports (link behind paywall) that he said “there are so many cop haters out there now,” at the New York Ideas forum, a conference presented by The Atlantic. “We have this new phenomenon on social media … out come the cameras and they start interfering with the process police officers are engaged in. We are in this strange new era in America.”
Bratton cited this video, where cops allegedly didn’t realize that a guy was holding a knife because they were distracted by the other guy filming them. “The crowd around these officers, of everybody with the cameras basically agitating the cops, interfering with the cops attempting to break up the fights,” he said. “That’s what we’re up against.”
He’s saying they’re up against people exercising their constitutional right to film the police. He’s saying that civilians doing what they can to protect themselves is a nuisance, because Bratton believes police being able to easily arrest people is more important than public safety. He doesn’t say that outright, but that’s what he infers. This is the top cop displaying the NYPD’s very common Us vs. Them mentality. Ironically, Bratton supports body cameras for police, telling WABC in December, “police departments that put cameras into their cars have seen a reduction in citizen complaints.” Apparently cameras are fine if the police have first access to them.
Rather than getting mad about being inconvenienced, police need to get used to people filming them. Let’s use a sports metaphor for a moment: when basketball players are shooting foul shots, there are people sitting behind the basket waving and making noise and trying to distract them. They never distract them, because basketball players are professionals, and the attempt at distraction is part of the job. I’ve never tried to break up a brawl in a park nor taken foul shots with the game on the line in front of an arena full of people, but I imagine the adrenal response is similar for both. Civilians recording police aren’t even primarily trying to disrupt and distract the police; they’re just trying to document.
This “strange new era” that Bratton doesn’t like is one where police are no longer free to act with impunity, because now civilians are technologically capable and empowered to monitor them. It’s been time for the police to adapt. Cameras are not going away.
It seems like Commissioner Bratton needs a vacation. Maybe he should go sit on the beach for a couple of weeks and clear his head. Then he can come back when he’s not so venomously mad at the mayor and the public and the press. That way he won’t say dumb shit and get stuff like this written about him, and perpetuate the cycle that has happened over and over again. The city will survive without him.