The NYPD's rank-and-file union leadership chided the medical examiner's report on the chokehold death of Eric Garner and the influence of the Rev. Al Sharpton while telling officers Tuesday to work by the book even if it slows crime fighting.
At a Manhattan news conference, the leaders of two powerful police unions suggested that critics could force officers to look out for their safety first.
"We want you to do your job, to follow the rule book, the way it is written and if there is a delay in getting to the next place so be it," Ed Mullins president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association said of officers during the news conference with Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. "But at the end of the day the goal for members of the NYPD is to go home safe."
Lynch lashed out at Sharpton, who has demanded federal officials take over the investigation into the death last month of Staten Island resident Eric Garner.
"It is outrageously insulting to all police officers to say we go out on the street to choke people of color," said Lynch, referring to comments he claimed Sharpton made last week during a City Hall forum on Garner's death attended by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Lynch said the PBA would defend the officers involved in the July 17 encounter with Garner.
In a statement, Sharpton, who has called for the arrest of the officer involved in Garner's death, called for "a mature conversation about policing rather than immature name calling and childish attempts to scapegoat."
Garner's encounter with police -- captured on video -- shows him arguing with officers who then tackle him. Officer Daniel Pantaleo is seen applying the chokehold the city medical examiner ruled killed Garner.
Lynch labeled the medical examiner's report that Garner's death was a homicide a "political document." He disputed whether a chokehold killed Garner.
"We will defend these police officers, we will get experts in the use of force, this was not a chokehold," Lynch said. A spokeswoman for the medical examiner said the office stood by the report.
Lynch and Mullin's ratcheting up of the rhetoric comes seven months into the tenure of Police Commissioner William Bratton. He had promised to soothe years of festering tension between officers and the communities they patrol. But he has taken heat for his focus on quality of life policing efforts, supported by union leaders, but attacked by opponents who say it targets minority and low-income communities.
De Blasio tried to cool things down Tuesday in Brooklyn. He defended medical examiner Dr. Barbara A. Sampson but acknowledged that a slowdown by officers could cause problems.
"I think every law enforcement official, every officer, has to serve the people of this city," de Blasio said. "I think the vast majority of the men and women at the NYPD and all the uniformed services take that very, very seriously."
With Matthew Chayes and Alison Fox