Police Regression

There’s a term for it – regression. Sigmund Freud came up with the term, for what he kept seeing over and over again. The troubled people he saw seemed to somehow come up with a defense mechanism that led to a temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development, as he put it, rather than to handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. When upset with how things really are, which is not as they wished, which can lead to some odd and dysfunctional impulses, an individual’s personality often reverted to an earlier stage of development, adopting childish mannerisms. Freud tried to explain to these folks how thing really are in this world and suddenly found himself dealing with children, and those are difficult patients. They whine, or they simper and act cute, or they sulk, or they act out, or they make absurd threats, or they try to screw everything up, even if they too will pay the price for that, to show everyone how angry they are, although few threaten to hold their breath until they turn blue. Kids do that. Adults don’t. Adults just turn into irritating assholes, acting childishly, and there’s probably no point in trying to talk to them rationally about the issue at hand, whatever it is, as one sensible adult to another. The other adult has gone missing.

As with most of the Freud stuff, this is clarifying – it explains a common set of behaviors in a new and comprehensive way – while it is not particularly useful. What are you supposed to do when a coworker, feeling disrespected, decides not to talk to anyone, or takes a week off, when the work needs to get done, now? What if they just smile and work very slowly, saying nothing, so the group cannot meet the deadline? That sort of passive-aggressive behavior is maddening, and childish, but there’s no way to call them on it. They’re doing their job, after all. Labor unions know this. They sometimes use work slow-downs to make their point – but their members are right there on the job, so management has no leverage. Police unions, who are forbidden to strike, for obvious public safety reasons, sometimes resort to the Blue Flu to make their point – suddenly half the force has called in sick, but who’s to say they’re not really sick? Yes, it’s childish, but it often gets them what they want in the next contract. Maybe Freud was wrong, and regression is a highly functional behavior.

Over the last six years the Republicans have seemed to think so. In 2010, Obamacare became the law of the land, and their own Supreme Court failed to say it was unconstitutional, and they didn’t have to votes in Congress to repeal it, and in 2012, voters rejected Mitt Romney, who had vowed to end it, so we saw their childish regressive tantrums to get their way – they’d shut down the government if it wasn’t repealed, they’d refuse to raise the debt ceiling and wreck the whole world’s economy, for a generation or more, unless it was repealed, they’d block every Obama nomination to anything unless it was repealed, they cut off funds to the EPA or refuse to pay the heating bill at the White House unless it was repealed, and so on and so forth. And of course Ted Cruz would hold his breath until he turned blue, unless it was repealed – and Obama finally figured out he was dealing with children, so he stopped dealing with them. The one time they did manage to shut down the government, for a few weeks, they looked like petulant children, or worse, and no one was forced to repeal anything. Let them be sulking children who periodically act out. Ignore them and carry on. Someone has to be the adult in the room. The American public will get it. The American public did, for a time, at least for a few news cycles – and now the Republicans are trying to stop themselves from acting like spoiled children who don’t get their way again, over Obama’s choices in how to enforce the current immigration law. They say they will not shut down the government again over this, that they will handle those unacceptable impulses in a more adult way, although the Tea Party folks in their midst may make that impossible. Those Tea Party folks do love their tantrums, even if they do no good at all. They call that patriotism. Others might call it something else, and Freud would call it classic regressive behavior. He was not a fan of that.

Freud thought regressive behavior was severely dysfunctional, of course – there’s no way to get anything done when one party wants to work things out and the other party sulks and then acts out and then sulks again. A representative democracy, where folks with quite different interests and ideas must work things out, over and over again, so the country can keep running, cannot function when the dialog is no more than one exchange – “Can we talk?” “No!”

Every parent of a teenage girl has heard that “no” – as she slams the door and flops on the bed and thinks about how she’ll show everyone – she will get that tattoo or whatever. Maybe she will, or maybe she won’t, but she will eventually grow up and stop pouting, when she figures out it makes her look stupid. That happens. It’s just that it doesn’t happen often enough in public life, and it’s not happening in New York at the moment, which is why the New York Times called for the NYPD to just grow up:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has spent weeks expressing his respect and admiration for the New York Police Department, while calling for unity in these difficult days, but the message doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

When he spoke at a police graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden on Monday, some in the crowd booed and heckled him. This followed the mass back-turning by scores of officers when the mayor spoke on Saturday at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos; the virtual back-turning the day before by an airplane-towed banner (“Our backs have turned to you”), and the original spiteful gesture by officers on the night Mr. de Blasio visited the hospital where Officer Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, lay dead.

Mr. de Blasio isn’t going to say it, but somebody has to: With these acts of passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, many New York police officers, led by their union, are squandering the department’s credibility, defacing its reputation, shredding its hard-earned respect. They have taken the most grave and solemn of civic moments – a funeral of a fallen colleague – and hijacked it for their own petty look-at-us gesture.

Yeah, pouting does make you look stupid, because pouting is all about passive-aggressive contempt and self-pity, but the Times editorial board isn’t finished:

The New York Police Department is going through a terrible time, and the assassinations of those officers only underscore the dreadful dangers that rank-and-file cops face every day. And, in truth, there is some thanklessness to being a cop. Officers often feel beleaguered, jerked around by supervisors and politicians, obligated to follow rules and policies that can be misguided, held responsible for their mistakes in ways that the public is not, exposed to frequent ridicule and hostility from the people they are sworn to serve. It has always been that way with cops.

But none of those grievances can justify the snarling sense of victimhood that seems to be motivating the anti-de Blasio campaign – the belief that the department is never wrong, that it never needs redirection or reform, only reverence. This is the view peddled by union officials like Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association – that cops are an ethically impeccable force with their own priorities and codes of behavior, accountable only to themselves, and whose reflexive defiance in the face of valid criticism is somehow normal.

Grow up, guys. As Freud would say to one of his patients, that’s not how the world works:

The police can rightly expect, even insist upon, the respect of the public. But respect is a finite resource. It cannot be wasted. Sometimes it has to be renewed.

So Mayor de Blasio will ask the question. Can we talk? Do that.

They did, and nothing came of it:

Undoubtedly hoping to quell criticism from the police force, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio met with police union leaders Tuesday as the city prepared to bury a second slain officer this weekend.

It’s not known what officials said in the closed-door meeting, but a De Blasio spokesman described the session as “focused on building a productive dialogue and identifying ways to move forward together.”

“The mayor and police commissioner remain committed to keeping crime in New York City at historically low levels, supporting the brave men and women in uniform who protect us every day, and finding ways to bring police and the community closer together,” spokesman Phil Walzak said in a statement.

But the leader of New York’s top police union said there was no detente with the city leadership.

“There were a number of discussions, especially about the safety issues that our members face,” said Patrick Lynch, leader of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn. But nothing was resolved, he told reporters in televised remarks. “Our thought here today is that actions speak louder than words, and time will tell.”

And their actions spoke for them:

Cops anonymously told the New York Post that they aren’t making arrests for minor crimes because they fear for their safety following the murders of two NYPD officers.

“I’m not writing any summonses. Do you think I’m going to stand there so someone can shoot me or hit me in the head with an ax?” a cop, who was granted anonymity by the Post, said. “I’m concerned about my safety. I want to go to home to my wife and kids.”

To back up these assertions, the Post reports in a separate story that arrests have nose-dived by 66 percent over the last week, fueled by huge drops in arrests for minor offenses. That percentage is based on a comparison between last week starting Dec. 22 and the same week in 2013.

No one can confirm these figures, or will, but something is up:

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587. Summonses for low-level offenses “like public drinking and urination” dropped by 94 percent as well, the Post reports.

The Post’s sources say the “work stoppage” as the Post describes it is driven primarily by safety, but also fueled by feeling betrayed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But the drop in arrests could be worse news for NYPD Chief Bill Bratton than it is for those protesting police misconduct.

Bratton helped pioneer the “broken windows” approach of policing. Proponents of the broken windows theory believe that law enforcement cracking down on low-level offenses leads to a drop in more serious crimes.

The theory is controversial and its effectiveness has been repeatedly cast into doubt.

Even criminologist James Q. Wilson, one of the originators of the broken windows theory, describes it as “a speculation.”

“I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime,” Wilson said in 2004.

Maybe what they had been doing wasn’t what they should have been doing:

Those who have protested the recent deaths of Eric Garner and other African-Americans at the hands of police have explicitly criticized broken windows policing.

It was an attempt to arrest Eric Garner for the low-level offense of allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes that, a coroner’s report said, led to his death.

At a rally earlier this month, the chant, “Broken windows, broken lives,” could be heard echoing in the streets.

At Reason, the libertarian site, Scott Shackford adds this:

Well, we can only hope the NYPD unions and de Blasio settle their differences soon – so that the police can go back to arresting people for reasons other than “when they have to.”

The NYPD’s failure to arrest and cite people will also end up costing the city huge amounts of money that it won’t be able to seize from its citizens, which is likely the real point. That’s the “punishment” for the de Blasio administration for not supporting them. One has to wonder if they even understand, or care, that their “work stoppage” is giving police-state critics exactly what they want – less harsh enforcement of the city’s laws.

No doubt police are hoping that citizens will be furious when police don’t do anything about the hobo pissing on the wall in the alley or won’t make the guy in apartment 3b turn down the racket at four in the morning. And they’re probably right to a certain degree. But if they think the city is going to turn into sheer anarchy over the failure to enforce petty regulations, they’re probably going to be disappointed.

And from one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers there’s this:

Nice to see the NYPD are not responding like petty, petulant, spoiled children and have instead taken up a constructive debate over their grievances with the mayor. It would be sad to think that they were so thin-skinned as to compromise the integrity of their positions because their soft, touchy-feely side was bruised when the mayor expressed how he cautioned his child in dealing with the police.

And another reader piles on:

It’s anecdotal, but we went away for Christmas and left the car on the street. At $45, one street-cleaning ticket is cheaper by far than putting it in a garage. Then I changed my return, putting us in line for two tickets. I got back yesterday anticipating a $90 bill—and found nothing on the windshield. Suspecting the wind might have blown the tickets away, I checked online. Zip.

I’m selfishly pleased by that. But if this horseshit “wartime footing” stance by the NYPD union extends even to traffic cops, then the life-and-limb ramifications of minimal law enforcement are appalling. The NYPD is using New York citizens – its bosses, its responsibility, and the folks who pay its salaries – as the ante in its poker match with the mayor. In the past, I’d have expected the citizenry to pretty quickly side with the cops, be it simply out of self-interest. But I think this time the NYPD may have made a bad bet. One of their men killed a man and walked. Then, when even gently criticized, they took the city hostage rather than eat a bite of crow, or even swallow a bite of pride. This time may be different, and I very much hope it will be.

The NYPD did make a bad bet. Regression ain’t a pretty thing, and Digby (Heather Parton) adds this:

I’m not sure what they hope to achieve. Their list of grievances seems to be that the mayor hurt their feelings and they don’t get no respect. Their demands are that the mayor should apologize (and perhaps resign) and that protests against police should be banned and the police department should be permanently shielded from all criticism. I don’t think that’s very realistic.

She sees something more too:

I continue to be stunned at these police officers’ lack of maturity and professionalism. I understand that they’re upset at both the protests and the shootings of their fellows in NYC and that’s fine. But their antics in the face of criticism prove in living color what we see in so many individual incidents: they don’t just want respect, they want submission. They will brook no discussion and accept no accountability, have no use for psychology or patience, because the weapons in their holsters should be sufficient to gain instant compliance. We cannot call ourselves a free society as long as that is the case.

We’ve allowed police militarization and the “us vs them” attitude that go with that to become the norm without any discussion.

Can we talk? No! Oh well. But she does cite Ta-Nehisi Coates – “Making arrests only when you have to seems like good policy.”

John Cole tells a little story about that:

I was talking to Harry (the owner and manager of our general store in town- well, our only store in town), who is three years older than me, and we were talking about the former town cop whose name was Larry, but everyone knew him as Larry Law. This was back when my dad was Mayor and de facto Chief of Police and used to ride around with him on big college party nights to help keep people safe and quiet. At any rate, we were talking about how we thought we were so smooth and got away with everything and Larry was just a dunce, when it turned out, when Harry saw Larry years later, Larry said “I had you all dead to rights on so many things, but you weren’t hurting anything and everyone was safe, so I just watched to make sure no one got hurt. You were just kids being kids.”

That’s what he felt his job was- keeping the town safe. What a concept.

Yeah, that is the concept, but these guys have their pride:

New York City police officers threw a prankster to the ground for dancing behind them in a video that was posted to YouTube on Saturday.

The incident came about while prankster Alexander Bok was carrying out a dare issued by daytime talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres, who challenged viewers to “sneak up behind perfect strangers” and “dance behind them without them knowing it.”

Bok danced behind unsuspecting New Yorkers in and around Grand Central Terminal in the video, which was reportedly filmed on Dec. 24.

Bok started performing the “Gangnam Style” dance behind an NYPD officer but stopped when the cop noticed him and turned around. At that point several cops could be heard questioning Bok while he tried to explain that he was just dancing.

“What’s wrong with you, bro?” one of the cops could be heard saying in the video.

“What are you dancing in the street for?” another asked.

“Are you a fucking asshole?” another cop could be heard saying.

The verbal questioning eventually got physical and ended when one of the police officers pushed Bok to the pavement.

These things happen. Freud didn’t mention it, but one of the side-effects of regression is the loss of any sense of humor at all. And some people never grew up in the first place.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Police Regression

  1. Rick says:

    First, read this:

    “The mayor and police commissioner remain committed to keeping crime in New York City at historically low levels, supporting the brave men and women in uniform who protect us every day, and finding ways to bring police and the community closer together,” spokesman Phil Walzak said in a statement.

    Oh, wait! This just in:

    “I’m not writing any summonses. Do you think I’m going to stand there so someone can shoot me or hit me in the head with an ax?” a cop, who was granted anonymity by the Post, said. “I’m concerned about my safety. I want to go to home to my wife and kids.”

    Okay, so go back to that first statement, and where it mentions the “brave men and women in uniform who protect us every day”, strike the word “brave”. Maybe the mayor and commissioner should run classified ads, looking to hire brave cops to replace the ones they got.

    Meanwhile, they should go to that guy who’s afraid of getting literally axed, and figuratively ax him. Give him what he says he wants; send him home to his wife and kids. He obviously won’t be missed.


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