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Bail changes stoke police union activism in legislative races

Oct 29, 2020
  • nypd, nyc pba, pba, bail reform

New York police unions backing mostly GOP candidates for state legislative seats.

By JOE MAHONEY CNHI State Reporter
October 29, 2020

ALBANY -- Disturbed by recent legislation restricting the use of cash bail at criminal arraignments, New York police unions have reached for their wallets in an effort to have their voices heard in races for state legislative seats.

The bail legislation, which was later revised to restore some judicial discretion, was a major topic of debate early in the year before public attention shifted to the public health crisis fueled by the spread of the coronavirus.

Thomas Mungeer, president of the NYS Troopers Police Benevolent Association, said the union representing some 6,000 troopers and retirees has been politically engaged for the past two decades. But statehouse legislation impacting law enforcement has stirred enthusiasm among the rank-and-file to make sure their viewpoints are expressed across the state.

"The bail reform was the first piece of the puzzle," Mungeer told CNHI. "And then the 'defund police' movement was the icing on the cake. It's been one thing after another that has caused police unions to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. We need to have our voices heard.'"

If the Troopers PBA had a line in the sand, Mungeer said, it was the controversial legislation that allowed public access to what had been the confidential personnel jackets kept for police officers, including complaints and reports that have not been substantiated.

As with many other police unions in New York, the endorsements issued by the Troopers PBA show a decided tilt in favor of Republican candidates. Mungeer noted the bills leading to the new bail changes and opening police disciplinary records were advanced by Democrats.

"We did endorse some Democrats in the Assembly, but we are not endorsing any Democrats in the Senate in cycle," he said.

Democrats insist any attempt to paint their candidates as weak on criminal justice issues won't win over voters.

"These groups have made a point to distort the truth and are upset about a simple common sense bill that provided disciplinary records," said Michael Murphy, spokesman for the state Senate Democratic conference. "No amount of special interests or outside money will help the Republicans."

The troopers' union is one of several police organizations focusing on competitive races.

A coalition of 23 police unions, including the Police Conference of New York and the New York City PBA, has been promoting six GOP candidates, five of whom are challenging incumbent Democratic state senators.

"The dangerous policies that the Senate Democrats supported are turning voters into crime victims," said Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City PBA.

The union has been providing foot soldiers for campaign events featuring the candidates they are backing, including Michael Martucci, the Republican seeking the seat of Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale, representing a district that includes parts of Delaware County.

Metzger had backed the bail legislation last year. Then, in the same week that Martucci entered the race, she introduced a modified version that restores the ability of judges to consider the risk a defendant's release would pose to the safety of victims or others.

The coalition has also gotten behind two Republicans seeking open seats in districts where the GOP has traditionally had strength, Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, seeking the seat held by retiring Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Peter Oberacker, an Otsego County Board of Representatives member angling for the seat of retiring Sen. James Seward, R-Milford.

Vincent Casale, the Otsego County Republican chairman, said the heat some Democrats are feeling from law enforcement organizations is a reaction to both the bail legislation and the "defund the police" effort.

"Silence on an issue such as 'defund the police' is really no different than being out on the streets with the protesters and throwing stuff at the police," Casale said. "If you don't denounce them, you might as well join them."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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