The leaders of municipal unions have a tricky tightrope to walk. They must be accountable to their membership while also keeping in mind that their salaries are paid for by city taxpayers. Their actions — and incomes — have a direct impact on the public.
For police, bestowed with the awesome power to save life and bring death, this is doubly true. This does not mean their leaders will be sober-minded or particularly rational: Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has managed to beef with right-wing, cop-loving attack dogs like Rudolph Giuliani and liberal doves like Bill de Blasio alike, screaming his way to hyperbolic headlines for nearly two decades. But Lynch looks like Ludwig Wittgenstein when stacked up against Ed Mullins, the logorrheic president of the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association.
Mullins, once aptly likened to an anthropomorphic Big Mouth Billy Bass, is a shrill contrarian with little regard for the public’s welfare or even the reputation of his union. In his latest stunt, he reportedly stormed out of a meeting with Police Commissioner James O’Neill Tuesday after the commissioner, far less of a galactic egomaniac than his predecessor, held to his position that it was wrong for a sergeant to shoot to death a 66-year-old mentally ill black woman who was wielding a baseball bat.
“What is clear in this one instance, we failed,” O’Neill said shortly after the October 18th shooting. “We were called to help her and we ended up killing her.”
This, of course, was too inflammatory for Mullins, a Republican who does not bother to live in New York City. His men are beyond reproach. This is why he called the city’s $5.9 million settlement with Eric Garner’s family “obscene,” because in his universe, facts are not a prerequisite to functionality. Mullins once claimed New York City, with its historically low crime rate, was somehow not safe enough to host a Democratic National Convention, something the city has done well enough in far more dangerous eras. Writing about his claim at the time, I considered whether it was too dumb to print.
Unlike Lynch, Mullins was at least smart enough to settle with the city to give his union retroactive raises, something all the other police unions save the PBA have done. What reportedly won Mullins over was watching a Knicks game with the mayor and his unsavory friend, Taxi kingpin Gene Freidman.
But Mullins remains every reporter’s dial-a-quote for when something remotely controversial happens about the police, a loud voice that is always available and empty. It doesn’t matter that he makes little sense. There’s a reason you’ve seen Mullins’s name in print far more than Roy Richter’s, the level-headed president of the Captains Endowment Association, a man sane enough to ask police to stop turning their backs on the mayor at cop funerals.
Mullins is clever enough to know that as long as he’s inflammatory and irrational, someone will have to pay attention. In a way, it’s the Donald Trump approach to life, dumbly lighting fuses ad infinitum and watching them explode. There is no long-term strategy for Mullins, no greater conception of where his union is going or what 21st century policing should be. He is the definition of a reactionary, doing a disservice to a rank-and-file that, for the most part, deserve better.
Once in a while, he should shut up.