Pretend Police: NYPD Auxiliary Officers

On March 14, 2007 two, young, volunteer, NYPD Auxiliary police officers were murdered gangland style in Greenwich Village, by a crazy guy with a gun. Both volunteers were in pursuit of the killer who had just gunned down a pizzeria worker. Here’s the execution of one Auxiliary officer caught on tape. The killer crosses the street to shoot the Auxiliary officer crouching for cover behind a car:

Next, the killer fires his gun from behind his victim, execution style:

Moments later the real NYPD officers arrive to kill the shooter and take the Auxiliary officer to the hospital where, later, he was pronounced dead:

The death of these two volunteers has made New York City stop to ponder if the NYPD Auxiliary Community Policing program is appropriate or not. NYPD Auxiliary officers are volunteers.

They are not paid. They get no benefits. They are not allowed to carry guns or mace or tasers or weapons of any type. They do not wear bulletproof vests. Some Auxiliary officers are allowed to drive Auxiliary police cars on patrol.

There are currently over 4,800 Auxiliary police officers patrolling New York City. There is great confusion in the minds of many New Yorkers when it comes to the NYPD Auxiliary police program. Are the Auxiliary police the “real police” or not? The answer is — they are volunteers and not police officers — but many think NYC wants you to believe the Auxiliary police are the same as official police officers because it gives the NYPD 4,800 more bodies on the street providing the illusion of a greater official police presence than really exists.

If you can get away with not paying 4,800 people who will walk the streets for you in exchange for a neat uniform and a sense of belonging, it makes fiscal and public relations sense to provide those volunteers with the myth of being a part of NYPD officialdom. How many people know “Auxiliary” means “providing additional help?”

Auxiliary police officer uniforms have the same unified “look and feel” of an official NYPD uniform. Their badges look like Sheriff stars and not the NYPD shield — but the uniform color and fit of the Auxiliary police and official NYPD police are basically the same. Here’s the official NYPD uniform patch:

Here’s the Auxiliary police uniform patch:

Both patches look alarmingly the same, don’t they? Is that striking similarity by design or by chance? I can tell you from personal observation the NYPD Auxiliary police act, behave and talk like wannabee official police officers.

They strut around neighborhoods questioning people and giving people the stink eye — now I’m all in favor of that kind of “eyes and feet on the street” because it gives a sense of satiety to those who are fearful of their neighbors — but I am not in favor of Auxiliary police leading people to believe they are official officers for the City of New York when they are not. The NYPD Auxiliary police are really The Pretend Police. Real police officers are vetted and tested and trained in all aspects of the law.

Auxiliary police are not. Auxiliary police are nothing more than eager and loyal volunteers. If the NYPD and the City of New York feel Auxiliary volunteers are more than that then they should treat them as more than that. The first step in making sure we don’t have future assassinations of Auxiliary police is to make it visually clear that Auxiliary police are not official NYPD officers.

We take that step by creating stark differences in uniforms. I realize a big lure in being an Auxiliary police officer is the ability to dress up and pretend to be the NYPD — but it is that very danger of false pretense, that very sense of imitation authority that led two young Auxiliary officers to their deaths on a cold Greenwich Village street. The NYPD does not really like Curtis Sliwa’s international neighborhood patrol — The Guardian Angels — even though the Angels share the same mission of the NYPD Auxiliary program: Community policing.

The NYPD feels the Guardian Angels are a vigilante group that answers to no one. I argue the NYPD Auxiliary police program answers to no one. Asking volunteers to basically pretend to be the official police when they are not is no different than the Guardian Angels walking the streets to report suspicious activity to the police. The biggest difference between the Guardian Angels and the NYPD Auxiliary police is the look and feel of the uniforms:

There is no visual or aesthetic doubt that the Angels — in their bright burgundy berets and neon red jackets — are not the NYPD. The NYPD Auxiliary police should be dressed in a similar sort of, Guardian Angels-like, style while patrolling the street to make it completely clear to everyone they are not official NYPD officers.

If that distinction with a darkling difference had been made clearer on the night of March 14, perhaps two young men would not be dead after being mistaken as official carriers of deadly force.