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by Peter Moskos

November 10, 2011

Too Gentle a Slap

I've said before that Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna should be in trouble (but not fired). But this seems like too gentle a slap on the wrist. What worries me isn't his career (I couldn't care less), but the message it sends.

Clearly transferring this man to a precinct closer to home is a case of rewarding an officer for 30 years of (what I assume to be) dedicated service. But it also says that misuse of force (and to the detriment of other police officers, I want to point out) isn't a big deal, at least not when done to a ranking officer. That's not right. I think he should have been forced, by risk of server sanction, to retire.

Macing somebody is a bigger deal than fixing tickets. Because the officers in the latter situation are being criminally charged, the practice will change. But misuse of force against a screaming liberal woman protester is somehow OK? It's not right. And it sends a dangerous message to officers dealing with an ongoing delicate situation.


Anonymous said...

I really don't think this is a promotion. He was transferred to some desk duty job at the SI Patrol Bureau. If he is is a hands on type officer, which it appears he is, this is not the type of job he would like.

PCM said...

You're right. It's not a promotion. But it still should have not been transferred to Staten Island. While *he* may not like a desk job, I'm sure there are plenty of other experienced officers--ones who haven't misused force--who would love to be transferred to a Staten Island desk for a few years awaiting retirement.

PCM said...

Begs the question, "What do I have to do to get a desk job on Staten Island?!"

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is an actual (not rhetorical) question. What happened with Bologna was not a heat-of-the-moment type situation where he had to make a split-second decision. It wasn't an ambiguous situation where he misperceived these people as presenting some kind of danger. He deliberately chose to inflict some pain on people because he felt like it. This was an assault. Why should it be treated so differently than any other assault? In any other line of work, if you assault someone while on the job, I think you can be damn sure you'll be fired before the day is over, no matter how many years you've worked there. Why is it even a question whether he should be fired (not "forced to retire with a nice pension") here?

Most people, if they assault someone, can probably expect to end up in handcuffs. But since Bologna has a badge, we're talking about how he feels about a desk job? How does this make any sense?

PCM said...

Because unlike other jobs, force is part of the job. What's the difference between use of force and assault? The former is done in accordance with police regulation and is thus legal. But if you're allowed to do the former and then slip into the latter, it's potentially more forgivable than misuse of force when you shouldn't be using force at all. Does that make any sense?

Most people aren't expected to commit a form of legal assault in the line of duty. Police use force. The line between good force and bad force for police can be gray (not saying it is here, just saying...). So when police misuse force, the key is "misuse" more than force. When non-police assault somebody, there's the question of why they're using force in the first place.

Police use force on a continuum. And at some point it goes from justified and reasonable to negligent and malicious. But where and when? Well, it depends. I'm not saying this to justify misuse of force, I'm pointing out that it's never so clear cut and dry.

There is a gray area between legal and illegal use of force. On one end of the spectrum you say, "good job, glad you didn't get hurt." On the other end you throw somebody in prison for assault. This is somewhere in between. Malicious? Perhaps (I think yes, but I don't know for sure). But not major. No permanent injury. Nobody died. After a few hours and a good load of laundry (careful with the tumble dryer exhaust) it's like it never happened.

Or think of it this way: A cop pulls up on a drug corner and one guy bolts. The cop chases the suspect. A long foot pursuit. Catches the SOB and slaps the cuffs on. Then after his sergeant shows up he realizes he doesn't actually have a crime. No probably cause. So he yells at the kid for hanging out with drug dealers and "cuts him a break."

Do you leave well enough alone or fire the cop and charge him kidnapping? That's what you or I would be charged with if we chased somebody for no good reason and held him against his will.

These aren't exactly parallel. But they're similar in the sense that police often ride a fine line between good work and what would be a crime if somebody else did it.

A guy looses his temper in a high-stress job. It happens. He messed up. It isn't good. But it doesn't negate what might be decades of dedicated service.

I think he should be punished. But punished in moderation with an understanding of the job and an understanding of the cop's history.

Please also note I took a very different line with the rookie cop who tackled the bicyclist in Times Square a few years back. The difference there was that the potential for injury was far greater. Mace is actually quite low risk. That matters.