Eric Adams spent more than 22 years in various ranks in the NYPD. That experience may suggest an awareness that the city’s police force is well qualified to address the dangers facing the five boroughs. But too often, the mayor has been content to criticize those who serve, while celebrating his own career in the department.
In a video from 2019 that surfaced during his 2021 mayoral campaign, Adams bragged about his contribution to the NYPD when frontline officers were achieving an historic crime reduction. “Every day in the police department, I kicked those crackers’ ass,” he said. “I was unbelievable in the police department.”
Adams’s campaign assertions that he was uniquely suited to fight crime as mayor haven’t yet proved out. Though index crimes are down of late, they remain elevated from pre-pandemic levels. A Siena College Research Institute poll conducted this month shows that 57 percent of New York City residents are “concerned about safety in public places.” Just under half of those polled had personally “witnessed violent or threatening behavior.”
Adams tends to talk about policing without mentioning the cops who currently do the job, telling stories about his own days on patrol or highlighting the sacrifices of those with whom he worked. Many of the officers who served in the NYPD at the same time as Adams—including me—will tell you that his police career had less to do with serving the public than with serving his political ambitions. He opposed nearly every successful crime-fighting strategy of the last generation on the grounds of racial animus.
Adams built his career as a police critic. “Eric has a history of throwing rocks at the Police Department,” said former deputy commissioner Wilbur Chapman, who served as one of the department’s highest-ranking black members before his retirement. Just over a year into Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s first term, Adams became the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. Without evidence, he accused fellow police officers of shooting at him in 1996 as he drove in his car off-duty on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn.
“Constantly making accusations, some of them baseless,” Chapman said of Adams in 2021, “was not helpful when you had the police department trying to reach out to the community.” According to Chapman, as the department worked to reduce the murder rate from 1,450 in 1984, the year Adams was sworn in to the force, to 596 in 2006, the year Adams left to become a state senator, “he never had one instructive idea, never had a suggestion.”
Adams’s failure to support those who actually police New York City today flows from his stance on relevant issues. Adams supports New York being a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants. He supported the initial state bail-reform law that has had disastrous results. He maintained a mandate decreed by then-mayor Bill de Blasio that put first responders who refuse to get vaccinated on unpaid leave, saying, “I will follow the orders that are in place.”
As mayor, Adams has yet to put aside a prevailing concern with his own political fortunes and apparently outsize ego. (He ranted in a speech last weekend that he was “the symbol of black manhood in this city, in this country.”) But the office of mayor is not a symbolic position. For the first time in his political career, Adams is armed with more than rhetoric: he wields real power to implement an agenda. To succeed, he should cast aside the divisive identity politics that have characterized his political rise and repudiate the misguided progressive crusade to demonize police officers.
In times of crisis, new leadership can offer new hope. New Yorkers yearn for a bold leader who recognizes the need for positive, decisive action to regain public confidence in the city and its elected officials. A mayor who brings order back to a city once called “ungovernable”—and sometimes seeming dangerously close to becoming so again—can reap political rewards. Such a revival begins with maintaining law and order and restoring trust in the police department. And that can only happen with a mayor genuinely committed to supporting the city’s cops. Adams has yet to demonstrate that commitment.
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