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New York Mayor, police union officials clash after grand jury decision in Eric Garner’s death

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that those angry with the grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the death Eric Garner should work for positive change. (Video: Reuters)
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Tensions between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and some in the city’s police force came into full view Thursday, as police union officials accused the mayor of throwing the department “under the bus” in his response to a grand jury’s decision to not indict a white officer in Eric Garner’s killing.

“Police officers feel like they are being thrown under the bus,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said at a Thursday press conference. “Look, last night, the protesters — we may not agree with their message, but we were protecting their right to do it. That’s what they should be saying.”

De Blasio pushed back, thanking protesters for an “overwhelmingly” peaceful protest on Wednesday night that resulted in 83 arrests, and praising officers. “The response by the New York Police Department was exactly the right one. It was smart, it was strategic, it was agile. A lot of restraint was shown,” the mayor said as he announced a massive refresher training for the nation’s largest police force in the wake of Garner’s death.

“This is a sign of respect for the profession of policing,” de Blasio said of the training. “We put so many other professions on a pedestal and put a huge amount on training. This is a profession that deserves more support.”

RELATED: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio pens an open letter after the Eric Garner decision: ‘There is much more to be done.’

Starting this month, all 20,000 members of the city’s patrol force, including 2,500 sergeants and 900 lieutenants, will undergo a three-day training course that will include learning conflict-resolution skills and how to deescalate situations with methods other than force.

“Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so, about how we respect people’s rights, how we reduce the use of force and the relationship between police and community,” de Blasio said.

The mayor declined to comment on whether such training would avoid a repeat of what happened between Garner and Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but he said that it will lead to “a very different reality.”

“This will protect our officers, protect lives of our citizens,” de Blasio said. “I have no doubt that some tragedies will be averted because of this training.”

After the grand jury declined to bring charges against Pantaleo, de Blasio met with clergy and others in Staten Island on Wednesday and then spoke about his personal fear that his African American son would fall victim to police brutality.

Lynch said Thursday that the mayor instead should have been telling residents to not resist arrest because it can lead to dangerous and sometimes tragic outcomes for officers and civilians alike.

An internal department review will begin into whether Pantaleo violated department conduct policies, just as the Justice Department launches a civil rights probe into the death of Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man, which was captured on video obtained by the Daily News and sparked mass outrage and an eventual investigation.

A judge also ordered the release of a very limited amount of information about the grand jury investigation, per a request from Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan. That information includes the fact that jurors sat for a period of nine weeks; heard from 50 witnesses, with 22 being civilians and the rest officers, emergency personnel and doctors; and considered 60 exhibits, which included four videos. The judge noted that much of that information had already been widely reported in the media.

Donovan had not asked for transcripts of testimony or the exhibits to be made public. In a statement, Donovan said he had no further comment on the grand jury investigation.

Union officials and de Blasio did agree on one thing: that more information related to the grand jury decision should be released.

Pantaleo “has no qualms if that information is released, because it’s the truth,” Lynch said. “He would like everyone to hear what the grand jurors heard.”