It was an ugly Christmas coda over the weekend—scores of police officers turning their backs to Mayor Bill de Blasio as he spoke at the funeral of Police Officer Rafael Ramos.
The mayor began his first year with an unruly snowstorm and is ending it in a blizzard of criticism from cops on the beat. The environment with de Blasio's police force has turned so toxic that it's clear the mayor isn't going to be able to fix things with a single speech or a policy initiative.
It's likely that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is going to have to play middleman between the mayor and his department, balancing the needs of his boss but trying not to lose the respect of his troops.
While reprimanding the cops who turned their backs to the mayor, Bratton has repeatedly acknowledged that there's a morale problem in the NYPD; it may be his job to fix it as de Blasio's credibility is bottoming out with the beat cop.
De Blasio is learning that there's guilt by association in the eyes of many members of the NYPD. If you bring Al Sharpton into a City Hall press conference or meet with protesters, they believe that gives them a stamp of legitimacy that they didn't have in some previous administrations. The "let's put everyone around a table and talk" model isn't the way things work in most paramilitary organizations.
To paraphrase losing mayoral candidate Mark Green, de Blasio may not need the NYPD to get elected, but he needs them to govern. While most mayors have had their problems with the police—especially around contract negotiations—this is clearly the lowest point in relations since cops rioted in front of City Hall in 1992. It's everyone's job—including, obviously, the cops themselves—to keep that from happening again.
For many cops, de Blasio has become a lightning rod for all things wrong, real and perceived. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is unhelpfully suggesting that de Blasio apologize to them. Being mayor means never having to say you're sorry. But it does mean that de Blasio and Bill Bratton need to take down this lightning rod on the roof of City Hall. It's a very difficult task for the new year.