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Excerpt: "Martin R. Stolar, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who is representing protesters, said, 'It appears that it is white shirts that are directing the rough arrests.' To him, their actions constitute a policy, from on high."

On the Brooklyn Bridge above the East River, 10/01/11. (photo: Ozier Muhammad/NYT)
On the Brooklyn Bridge above the East River, 10/01/11. (photo: Ozier Muhammad/NYT)

NYPD 'White Shirts' Take On Enforcer Role

By Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times

02 October 11


Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

he New York Police Department puts an endless list of tasks on the shoulders of its so-called white shirts - the commanders atop an army of lesser-ranking officers in dark blue.

But the portfolio of the white shirt has now unexpectedly grown to include the role of enforcer.

As the Occupy Wall Street protests, which began on Sept. 17, lurch into their third week, it is often the white shirts who lay hands on protesters or initiate arrests. Video recordings of clashes have shown white shirts - lieutenants, captains or inspectors - leading underlings into the fray.

White shirts led the face-off with protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The episode provided no viral YouTube moments, as the senior officers avoided confrontations with the demonstrators. Yet as hundreds of arrests were made, chants of "white shirts, white shirts" could be heard.

And a white shirt is the antagonist in the demonstrations' defining image: Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna's dousing of some penned-in women with pepper spray on Sept. 24, which seemed to surprise at least one of the blue shirts standing near him on East 12th Street, near University Place. The department is investigating the spraying.

Martin R. Stolar, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who is representing protesters, said, "It appears that it is white shirts that are directing the rough arrests." To him, their actions constitute a policy from on high. Even the chief of department, Joseph J. Esposito, the highest-ranking officer, was mixing with marchers last Saturday, briefly holding two people by the arm and directing their arrests.

Paul J. Browne, the department's chief spokesman, did not return a call to discuss the department's strategy, but in an e-mail he said most of the roughly 80 arrests made last Saturday "were made by police officers directed by supervisors."

In everyday policing situations, the one-two punch of uniformed response usually goes like this: Blue shirts form the first wave, with white shirts following. But those roles seem reversed in the police response to the Wall Street protests.

Police officers, law enforcement analysts and others cited a number of reasons for it. The prevalence of white shirts around Zuccotti Park, the center of the protests, signals how closely the department monitors high-profile events. Strategies are carefully laid out; guidelines for crowd dispersal are rehearsed; arrest teams are assembled. It is all in an effort to choreograph a predictable level of control.

Yet in the pepper-spray episode last Saturday, critics say, judgment was lacking.

"Unlike much street policing, large marches and protests involve lots of advance planning and the assignment of many supervisors to the scene," said Christopher T. Dunn, of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's therefore not surprising that supervisors would be personally involved in arrests. What is surprising and alarming is the sight of them using excessive force against protesters. Beyond the injuries that causes, it sends a terrible message."

For blue shirts, training dictates that they act as a team, not as individuals, said Thomas Graham, a retired deputy chief who until last year commanded the department's Disorder Control Unit.

"We don't want the officer initiating an action," Mr. Graham said. He said the goal was for commanders to steer subordinates into action.

Some observers have credited the police with nimbly tolerating the Wall Street protests, demonstrations that have received no official permits. Outside 1 Police Plaza on Friday evening, the seasoned agitator known as Reverend Billy tried to curry sympathy from the more than 60 officers standing across a police barricade. His sentiment was summed up in a protest sign that read, "The Working Class Must Unite (Hey, Cops, That Includes You)."

At the same time, the unscripted nature of Occupy Wall Street can prompt concerns among the police about chaos; marchers make on-the-spot alterations in their routes, and Saturday was a prime example: The march across the Brooklyn Bridge seemed as though it would be confined to the pedestrian walkway until a smaller group of protesters decided to march across the roadway, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Deputy Inspector Roy T. Richter, the head of the Captains Endowment Association, said he would prefer that his commanders use their delegating skills.

"Similar to a precinct station house, you don't want your precinct commanders making arrests and issuing summonses," he said. "Instead, they direct their resources, which include lieutenants, sergeants and police officers, to effectively address crime and quality-of-life conditions."

But one commander who has spent time at the protests said there were moments when commanders must act: "Any lieutenant or above can say, ‘Officer, arrest those three right there,' but in the meantime, if you are standing near someone and they should be arrested, grab them. You still have the same powers."

He added: "There are those of us who wear white shirts, who, I won't say are afraid of the street, but who never really put their hands on anyone, but took tests and got promoted. Then there are those of us who were good cops to begin with and then got promoted, and we are not afraid to put our hands on people when we have to."

Rob Harris and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting. your social media marketing partner
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