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Change NYPD culture

Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de

Police Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio as they preside over the NYPD Medal Day Ceremony at One Police Plaza on June 10, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

The takedown of Eric Garner, 43, on Staten Island last week is the strongest sign yet that NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton faces a huge challenge as he tries to train America's largest police force to practice the art of "active listening" and to "address the needs of people asking for help."

Can Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio truly change entrenched police attitudes? Actually, they don't have much choice.

Much of the public was already angry about the NYPD stop, question and frisk program championed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio and Bratton sought to defuse that fury with a much-publicized program encouraging police to treat citizens with dignity and respect. That would build sufficient trust for the department to ratchet up its enforcement of minor, quality-of-life offenses, the thinking went.

The goal is to improve police work, to enhance community relations, and to drive crime rates even lower.

But the Garner case says old attitudes run deep. A cellphone video that quickly went viral shows a police officer using what looks like a banned chokehold to subdue the 350-pound suspect after they approached him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, a misdemeanor.

As they take Garner down, he protests repeatedly that he can't breathe. Then he is still. We see officers standing over him for several minutes without offering aid.

Later, other cops chat jovially in the background while Garner lies still.

A bystander asks why the police aren't giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation to the handcuffed man as they wait for an ambulance. A policeman answers that Garner is breathing.

Perhaps worst of all, one video shows the plainclothes cop who grabbed Garner around the neck waving sarcastically to the person making the video.

After an ambulance crew arrives, the video shows no attempt to administer oxygen or take other measures to make sure Garner is breathing properly.

He is rolled away on a stretcher and later pronounced dead later at Richmond University Medical Center.

Caution is advised about judgments. We don't know yet exactly what caused Garner's death. We don't know why cops and ambulance workers seemed slow to act. The Staten Island district attorney and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau -- among many others -- are investigating.

But what's indelible are those shots of NYPD officers standing around while a man dies. Bratton faces a huge job.

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