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Editorial: NYPD unions hurt their own cause

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York Inc., Patrick J. Lynch, middle, gestures as he discusses the death of 43-year-old Staten Island resident Eric Garner, and criticisms of how police officers perform their duties. He was joined by other law enforcement union officials in Manhattan on Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: News 12

The New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and other police unions held a news conference this week to insist that -- contrary to the medical examiner's official finding -- Eric Garner of Staten Island did not die of a chokehold.

Then they really shoved the debate downhill.

Ed Mullins, who heads the sergeants union, dropped broad hints of a work slowdown if Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton don't give cops the support they think they deserve.

Not only would a job action, or the veiled threat of one, be a grievous defiance of proper oversight, it also would further damage relations between the city's cops and people they're sworn to protect.

The NYPD and the broad majority of its more than 35,000 officers have done a magnificent job cutting city crime rates in recent decades. Residents are safer. Murders are at their lowest level in modern history. And cops are safer, too. Twelve officers were shot and killed by suspects in 1971. Zero officers were shot and killed in 2013.

Still there are problems. Police use of the forbidden chokehold continues. Community pushback against policing tools -- stop-and-frisk protocols or enforcement of small quality-of-life infractions, when done appropriately -- is another.

Videos of Garner's takedown with what looks like a chokehold -- despite pleas that he couldn't breathe -- seem to offer a textbook case of what not to do. Just minutes after that incident, Garner was dead.

This is a case that will resonate throughout the region. The only plausible resolution to Garner's death is a comprehensive investigation by the Staten Island district attorney and other authorities. Union pressure to undermine such inquiries is irresponsible.

"There's no contradiction between doing your job effectively and respecting the people you serve," de Blasio said. But the unions are making that job harder.