To the editor:
Two generations ago, in the bad old days, the New York Police Department had many officers who were right extremists, in violation of the federal Hatch Act and New York state law, which require their political neutrality in job performance. Some of its officers were even avid readers of magazines that were looking for white mercenaries to help in coups d’etat in the Third World, like Soldier of Fortune.
The brass weren’t much better. They used to run a “red squad” dedicated to spying on and intimidating political dissenters. When marchers protested the Vietnam War and some observers threw dangerous objects at them, the attending police did no more than order the victims to keep moving.
I remember that era well. In 1964, the Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide.
But on Election Day, a group of NYPD officers were caught running a scheme to use police cars to drive Goldwater voters to the polls.
Over time, the ethnicity of the force changed, and much of the openly reactionary orientation of the officers abated, but not all. Part of the problem is that many officers do not reside in the localities they work for.
In Buffalo, for example, where a group of off-duty officers recently came out to cheer for officers who were arrested for viciously attacking a 75-year-old peaceful marcher — an event recorded on video — there is now a city residency requirement. But it is only for newly hired officers, and was added only about five years ago.
In New York City, even a newly hired officer does not have to reside in the city. The state legislature should change that.