My View: New York Deals With Their Public Safety Slowdown Quickly

Firefighter Union President Bobby Weist pickets outside of City Hall in 2013.
Firefighter union president Bobby Weist pickets outside of City Hall in 2013.

I’ve been fascinated with the New York Police Department work slowdown in response to the police shootings and protests.  As I noted last week in a column, part of that fascination is that I see parallels between the NY Police Union’s response and the response of our local firefighters, really since 2013 when the city council pushed through a series of reforms over their objections.

Probably the most serious breach in protocol was the celebration by firefighters and others when the former city manager left.  But the firefighters’ union went so far as to pressure councilmembers to fire Steve Pinkerton and, as we reported in November, have engaged in a slowdown on training, among other issues.

To date, there has been no response to any of this that we can tell.

This is markedly different from how it has played out in New York.  The New York Times, as we have noted, has hammered the  New York police union, not only for their tactics, but for their over-the-top response to relatively minor transgressions by public officials.

The police union officials, of course, denied responsibility for the mass inaction, but the New York Times editorial board called it “a reckless, coordinated escalation of a war between the police unions and Mr. de Blasio and a hijacking of law-enforcement policy by those who do not set law-enforcement policy. This deplorable gesture is bound to increase tension in a city already rattled over the killing by the police of an unarmed man, Eric Garner, last summer, the executions of two officers in Brooklyn last month, and the shootings on Monday of two plainclothes officers in the Bronx.”

By Monday, Commissioner William Bratton, in a press conference, had had enough.  He told the media that any officers refusing to make arrests or issue traffic violations to express dissatisfaction with the mayor “will face forceful consequences.”

At the same time, he said that “while he is not convinced the NYPD’s rank-and-file is engaging in an organized work slowdown, he is actively investigating a dramatic drop in arrests in recent weeks and will deal swiftly with any intentional slacking off.”

“We’re watching that very closely,” Bratton said Monday of the dip in summonses and arrests. He’s ordering a “comprehensive review of what has been happening,” the Associated Press reported.

“At this time, I would not use the term slowdown,” Commissioner Bratton said. But he added that if he determines that the drop in arrests is part of an organized effort on the part of police, “we will deal with it very forcefully.”

The data support the determination of a slowdown.

Earlier this week, the Times reported, “For the last two weeks, New York City police officers have sharply curtailed making arrests and issuing summonses. Only 347 criminal summonses were written in the seven days through Sunday, down from 4,077 in the same period a year ago.”

“The drop in arrests is particularly striking for low-level misdemeanors and so-called quality of life violations, like riding a bike on the sidewalk. Arrests for offenses that a few weeks ago were common — loitering, turnstile jumping, lying down on subway benches — are suddenly rare,” the Times reported.  “The number of cases handled by the arraignment courts fell 36 percent in December compared with the same month last year, and most of the drop came in the last two weeks of the month, court officials said.”

The report continues, “Just in the last two and a half weeks, arraignments for misdemeanors have fallen about 60 percent, to 2,581, from 6,395. The drop was more pronounced for people arrested for violations, like disorderly conduct: a 91 percent decline to 97 cases, compared with 1,157 over the same period a year ago.”

There is no way around this data.

The Times reported yesterday, “Seeking to end more than two weeks of a precipitous drop in police activity, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said on Friday that he had instructed top commanders to do what they could to reverse the trend.”

The Times reports, “The message, which was delivered to union leaders on Wednesday and to commanders over the next two days, was relayed to rank-and-file officers during roll calls on Friday, according to people familiar with the discussions; one supervisor said that officers were told to ‘start working again.’”

They added, “It appeared that the message had gotten through.”

“The slowdown is over in the sense that the numbers are starting to go back up again,” Mr. Bratton told reporters on Friday. “I anticipate by early next week that the numbers will return to their normalcy.”

The Times also quoted an anonymous supervisor who said, “Cops have all heard it at roll call.  The word is out: You better start working again.”

The Commissioner is clearly walking a fine line.  Once again, he refused to characterize the phenomenon as an organized work stoppage.”

Nevertheless, the results are clear here – the police officials and the city of New York are in the process of cracking down on a work slowdown.

But nothing has happened here in Davis in response to by a work slowdown by a different public safety group in the city.

The data released by Chief Nathan Trauernicht published by the Vanguard in November, clearly indicated such a trend regarding training. Sources close to the firefighters have told the Vanguard the slowdown has impacted everything that is not contractually required.

The data show a very clear trend from March 2014 to September 2014 where training hours in total, and averaged by employee, dropped from around 30 hours per employee per month down to as low as 15 hours by August, before rebounding slightly back to 20 by September.

Chief Nathan Trauernicht added fuel to the fire when he posted on the Vanguard, “You have to keep in mind that this is only a SEVEN month snapshot. There can be any number of circumstances that impact training hours.”

He stated, “I do believe that it is reasonable to expect that the hourly trendline SHOULD remain relatively even, increase, or even occasionally dip down to a standard baseline before rising again.”

Does all of this amount to a slowdown on the part of the union president and the membership of the Davis Professional Firefighters Association?

Chief Trauernicht stated, “While I can’t say that the order for a slowdown has has been given (because I don’t know that to be a fact), I can say that we don’t get a lot of eager participation in committees, projects, and in some trainings.”

“The reasoning that is commonly heard goes back to the contract imposition and a myriad of other issues.  Morale is very very very low and I actually sympathize with some of it as some of the issues put me, and the rest of the shared management team, in a frustrating if not impossible position of dealing with inherited issues that are significant in magnitude,” he stated.

The question that this comes back to, at least for me, is that two months ago the fire chief released the data that showed the decline of training and the cessation of other activities, indicating a possible work slowdown by the firefighters in the city of Davis.  And yet, from what we have seen, there has been no official response.

The Vanguard will be requesting more recent training data to monitor the progress here – but there is clearly a slowdown occurring and, just as clearly, there is not the quick response to it that we saw in New York.

–David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    The police union officials of course denied responsibility for the mass inaction”

    This is one key point for me. If any action is indeed being taken, it is the responsibility of those taking the action to own it. Individuals in publicly funded and sponsored positions such as police and fire departments are accountable to the public. If they believe that their cause and actions are justified then they need to have the gonads to stand up and say so. and accept the consequences of their position and actions.

    This is a matter of both personal and group responsibility. Interactions between public workers individually and collectively should be based on the truth as seen by the individual taking the action. For me, there is no place for dishonesty in these situations. In the word “dishonest” I am including both lying about motive, and not being willing to disclose true motivation and thus remaining silent in the face of honest questions about motivation.

    For me this applies equally to unionized positions and city leadership and staff. Running a city based on silences, lies, and prevarication is, for me, a losing strategy.

  2. SODA

    I am not sure the parallel is as strong as you make it, however the motive may be.

    If indeed the consistent data snows a slowing of training by some FF, what is the policy on enforcing training and if not completed in a timely manner, what are the consequences? It would appear that there should be an objective procedural way to deal with this?

    1. David Greenwald

      One thing we know is that when management tried to crack down on training back in 2013, they disciplined Wiest who then filed an unfair labor practices against the city. What efforts have happened since then?

  3. Frankly

    Big difference here… New York cops lives have been put in danger.  The Davis FF were just upset that their lottery pay and benefits were in danger of being normalized.

    Law enforcement is less responsible for over representation of certain minority group’s in crime and punishment than are liberals and politicians.   Is it any surprise that it is liberals and politicians doing the most finger-pointing at law enforcement?

  4. Dave Hart

    I don’t see the parallel at all.  In NYC, the reports were that 911 calls and crimes like robbery or violence related crimes were being addressed in the normal way.  In NYC, (corroborated by people I know who live there) there was a general sense of relief that people were not being harassed.  Life went on as normal, except there was less tension or anxiety about police harassment.  A slowdown by firefighters here in Davis wouldn’t be noticed by the public in contrast.  They still show up for lift assists, respond to fires.  In NYC, the public began to ask “Can we police our city with half the resources?”  I don’t see that question arising here in Davis with the firefighters based on what you wrote.

  5. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    I tend to agree with Greenwald that these cases are quite parallel. The stats don’t lie and other explanations don’t really add up. I see no reason to think these are not purposeful attempts by these unions to send a message of their unhappiness.

    Yet there are ironies in both: One of the greatest complaints against the police in New York, going back to the Giuliani administration, is that the cops make too many arrests for minor offenses, and allegedly the victims of this sort of “broken window” policing have been young blacks and Latinos. So now as a form of protest against the groups who are protesting against them is to engage in a slow down which effectively is the policy that their critics want them to have; In Davis, the irony of firefighters refusing to engage in safe practices training is that probably will not make the public less safe, but it could endanger the lives of relatively inexperienced firefighters. In other words, in order to punish the people of Davis, the fire union is telling its members to potentially harm themselves.

  6. Miwok

    “The drop in arrests is particularly striking for low-level misdemeanors and so-called quality of life violations, like riding a bike on the sidewalk. Arrests for offenses that a few weeks ago were common — loitering, turnstile jumping, lying down on subway benches — are suddenly rare,” the Times reported.  “The number of cases handled by the arraignment courts fell 36 percent in December compared with the same month last year, and most of the drop came in the last two weeks of the month, court officials said.”

    Apart from the comparison of NYPD with a Fire Department with less than 50 people is a stretch to be sure, but FD does not arrest people last I looked.

    Why is this a concern if the NYPD is not arresting people for minor infractions? They have been criticized as much as Davis PD for the same things, and now that they are not doing it, people are criticizing again?

    Like Prop 42, we seem to vote for and want more crime, and now that NYPD had spent a few days responding to the fact they are targets, all Mr Greenwald is concerned with is people NOT being arrested? Since he is against “Mass Incarceration”, wouldn’t a trend like this be in his interest to promote instead of denigrate?

    I believe it it the first article I have read where he decries less arrests.

  7. hpierce

    Off-topic:  David/Don/whoever… am finding “double-underscore” hyperlinks when I view these pages… they take me to ‘ads’ or extraneous sites… problem on my end, or the VG’s?

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