P. D. Blues


Around 1966, the NYPD was assailed by the police union as an unfit place to work. The cops were miserable. Morale had never been lower. The troops wallowed in lachrymose self-pity and the Fourth Estate lapped it up.
What a fun time they were all having.
My boss then was the four-star chief in charge of the force, under the police commissioner. As he usually did, he asked me what I thought.
What did I think?
The question shoved me into my favorite exercise, and I began to consider the question.
We were having a problem recruiting black males because the community leaders defined us as the enemy. Still true.
We had no interest in recruiting women but I helped change that in 1975—still nine years off then.
But Italians, Irish, even Jews? They flocked to the tests and we steadily raised the requirements and still they flooded the lists. No recruitment problems. The standards were high. The job was incredibly attractive to the segment of the upper levels of the lower class (civil servants, clerks and high school strivers) from which we’d always drawn. Salaries and benefits and pensions were surprisingly good.
Outsiders thought it was easy to be a cop. Insiders knew better but bad-mouthed “The Job” (the curious appellation used by insiders) for their own arcane purposes. No one quit, and the union made it damnably difficult to fire thumpers, racists, alcoholics, thieves, scoundrels and other miscreants in the ranks. Indeed, the unions—having, by 2019, secured seriously attractive salaries, benefits and pensions—had little else to do but defend wrongdoers.
So, in 1966, I told my boss to label the brouhaha “The Myth of the Exodus.”
That catchy phrase punctured the balloon and the issue sank to the ocean floor.
And now comes City Pages echoing the recruitment myth—and using a female police executive (a real revolution—unheralded and unsung) and, of course, the union-head, to prove the point.
I was outraged from the first line. Cops do not call it the “noble profession” and never have. Some awful events are cited to justify the affection for self-pity. Yes, cops do encounter the underbelly of the human beast. This is news?
The account describes tough incidents—often (without comment) handled by female cops. Duh! Split second decisions; horrid cases; unappreciative public. Hello? Anybody home? There are three photos—a white female police executive; a black female sergeant and, of course, a police union head.
So, are America’s police free of problems? Not quite. There’s racism and brutality and featherbedding, not to mention gargantuan judgments and settlements. And, yes, waste, inefficiency and bloat. What there isn’t—amazingly—is corruption. Bribery is history—made thus by such generous salaries, benefits and pensions as to make the acceptance of a corrupt offer literally unthinkable. The unions have done their jobs so well that all that is left for them to do is defend thumpers, racists, alcoholics, malingerers and their ilk.
A recurring theme of mobility suffuses the account. Rough statistics (guesses, really) are offered. Nothing in the least persuasive.
Does anyone quit? Is it easy to be a cop? Can you describe the salary? The benefits? The pension? Haven’t the requirements been raised?

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