NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio, his administration threatened to be overwhelmed by a rift with rank-and-file New York Police Department officers, on Monday forcefully condemned the thousands of cops who turned their backs to him during a pair of funerals for slain police officers.
In his first public remarks on the officers' protests, de Blasio said the cops' searing rebuke was hurtful to the families of the two officers killed in an ambush last month and was an offense to the city at large.
"Those individuals who took certain actions the last two weeks, they were disrespectful to the families involved. That's the bottom line," de Blasio said at a news conference held at police headquarters. "I can't understand why anyone would do such a thing in the context like that."
De Blasio has faced public police protests four times since the brazen daytime ambush on Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjin Liu: at the hospital where their bodies were taken, at a NYPD graduation ceremony and when he delivered eulogies at both officers' funerals.
He has stayed silent on the matter for two weeks, not making himself available for reporters' questions even as declining arrest numbers have raised concerns about a possible NYPD work slowdown. But on Monday he responded during a carefully choreographed news conference with Police Commissioner William Bratton that touted the city's record low crime levels but also was clearly intended as a public display of support from City Hall to the NYPD.
Bratton continued to back de Blasio during his widening rift with the rank and file, saying he was "very disappointed" in the officers who did not honor his request to refrain from protesting at Liu's funeral on Sunday.
"A funeral is not the place for that," Bratton said. "Come demonstrate outside City Hall. Come demonstrate outside police headquarters. But don't put on your uniform, go to a funeral and engage in a political action."
The chasm between the police unions and de Blasio has created the biggest crisis of his tenure. The unions have blamed de Blasio for permitting protests over police conduct that has, in turn, fostered an anti-NYPD atmosphere they believe contributed to the killings of the officers.
Patrick Lynch, head of the city's rank-and-file police union, has repeatedly said de Blasio had "blood on his hands" from the deaths and has supported the officers' rights to protest. He declined to comment about the mayor's remarks Monday.
But Edward Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said de Blasio was using the slain officers' families to "deflect what's really happening."
"The truth of the matter is the mayor knows there is bad blood between the rank and file," Mullins said. "And the mayor wants to pretend like he didn't create it, but he did."
De Blasio pointed to the historically low crime numbers, even as stop and frisk has declined dramatically, as proof that it was possible to create a "safer city" and a "fairer city." Overall crime was down 4 percent and there were 332 homicides, down from 335 last year. There were nearly 75 percent fewer stops and frisks.
But for the second straight week, the number of summonses for minor criminal offenses and traffic and parking violations decreased by more than 90 percent compared with the same week a year earlier, statistics show. The figures first plummeted in the week after the two officers were killed. Arrests for more serious offenses were also down 55 percent.
Both the mayor and police commissioner urged New Yorkers to look at the overall figures showing that crime continued to decline — not the minutia of a couple of weeks over the holidays that were marred by tragedy and flooded with protests that took officers away from routine duty. Bratton said he would take an intimate look at the numbers to determine whether anything nefarious, like a deliberate slowdown, was going on.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report. Follow Jonathan Lemire on Twitter at @JonLemire