NYPD captain Scott Forster was forced to hand over his gun and badge for walking off duty immediately after two officers were shot in his precinct of Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Thursday. The response of the NYPD in this incident was swift and just, but sharply contrasts with the department’s history of past inaction towards and active support for police officers accused of heinous injustice and malpractice. The NYPD should take disciplinary action against those who fail to protect and serve all New Yorkers, not just their fellow officers.
The NYPD has endured a number of high-profile scandals dealing with police misconduct over the past couple of years, the most widely-covered of which was the choking death of Eric Garner. The officers involved, who broke a longstanding NYPD ban on chokeholds, only received an internal charge of failure to supervise. The department could have made an effort to make this case an example of how police misconduct can cost lives, but decided instead to give the offending officers slaps on the wrist. It is difficult for police to be the most trusted members of society when those who have killed unarmed suspects by violating NYPD bans are put back onto the streets. More incidents involve a pattern of unlawful searches by the NYPD, including an alarming number of stop-and-frisks without documented cause for suspicion. Officials have stated they will improve training, but have not mentioned any form of reprimand for these past offenses, and training without punishment creates a protocol without teeth to enforce adherence. For an agency that prides itself on courtesy, professionalism and respect, it seems many officers forget that creed just when it matters the most.
While it appears the NYPD is taking appropriate action in regard to Scott Forster, its poor track record of reprimanding bad officers must not be ignored. The Forster case sheds light on an enormous double standard — the police spring into action when the victims are their own men, but are reluctant to take a stand when civilians are involved. This hypocritical behavior makes the police department seem self-interested and only concerned about saving face. When justice becomes political, and is used sparingly and with extreme prejudice, it calls into question the ethical foundation that the police — and the law in general — cling to for support. The NYPD’s failure to protect New Yorkers in truth, undermines the authority of the department and its officers.
Police are tasked with defending citizens, but have earned a reputation for defending the indefensible. If officers are left unpunished or given slaps on the wrists for serious missteps, no amount of training will improve the growing negative reputation of the NYPD. Public faith in the justice system corrodes when the only police action that receives official disciplinary action is failing a fellow officer. The NYPD must end its double standard and reprimand officers for misconduct, regardless of the victims.
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