NYPD Sings the Blues
By Philippe Gastonne - September 16, 2015

The New York Police Department released surveillance video of the [James Blake] arrest on Friday, offering a minute-long glimpse of the manhandling of a biracial sports star by a white plainclothes officer that compelled officials to swiftly strip the officer of his gun and badge.

Mr. Blake, 35, was leaning against a mirrored beam outside a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, his hands clasped as he waited to be taken to a corporate appearance at the United States Open. Officer Frascatore, 38, rushed into the video's frame, twisting Mr. Blake's left arm, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him face down onto the sidewalk.

He finished by digging his knee into Mr. Blake's back and handcuffing him, never easing up even though the athlete barely flinched as he let himself be tackled.

"I am determined to use my voice to turn this unfortunate incident into a catalyst for change in the relationship between the police and the public they serve," Mr. Blake said in a statement on Friday, calling for the city to make "a significant financial commitment."

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, in a joint statement, noted the city's $29 million investment in retraining police officers and pledged "to vigorously implement these reforms that build trust and respect between police officers and the people they serve." They said they were prepared to meet with Mr. Blake. – New York Times, Sept. 12, 2015

Yet again, the public is seeing video of a police-citizen encounter gone wrong. Retired tennis star James Blake, whom everyone agrees was guilty of absolutely nothing, was nevertheless tackled and handcuffed by an NYPD officer with a history of using excessive force.

Police officials do seem to be growing more adept at handling these incidents. Instead of launching a lengthy investigation, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton took only one day to bench the officer and call Mr. Blake to apologize.

Was this because Mr. Blake is a celebrity, because the evidence was so stark, or because the officer was a known problem? The NYPD still looks terrible under any of those reasons. As Blake told the media, such wrongful arrests occur every day. We are hearing about his only because it makes good television.

The suspended officer, James Frascatore, has been the object of multiple excessive force complaints dating back to at least 2013. The department knew, or should have known, that he needed extra supervision. He obviously was not getting it; the video shows no other police present for the arrest.

However faulty NYPD leadership may be in this case, Frascatore's fellow police officers must also have known his propensity for excessive force. They seem not to have done anything, either. That is a terrible mistake, both for the public and for police themselves.

Video cameras are now everywhere. These incidents will keep occurring. Each time, a few more citizens say "enough" and lose trust in the police.

This makes effective policing harder and exposes everyone to harm. The growing public outcry will lead to harsher supervision. If you are a police officer who chafes under intrusive bureaucracy now, just wait a couple of years. It will be far, far worse.

The best way to avoid that outcome is for street-level police officers to police their own ranks. They know which officers cause problems but choose to tolerate it. Aside from exposing the public to harm, this choice makes their own jobs harder.

Good officers have to stop protecting the bad ones. Police unions could be helpful, too, by disciplining their members before the department has to act.

Will any such thing happen? Probably not, but Commissioner Bratton's quick action in the Blake case is a small sign of changing attitudes. Time will tell if it means anything.

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