NEW YORK (AP) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio received some boos and heckling Monday at a police graduation ceremony, the latest chapter in his tension-filled relationship with the nation's largest police force.
The rift between de Blasio and much of the NYPD rank and file has grown considerably in recent weeks, and the leaders of the police union have blamed the mayor for fostering an anti-police atmosphere they believe contributed to the ambush slayings of two officers earlier this month.
Twice in a week — including at the funeral for one of the officers — people in crowds have turned their backs to de Blasio, adding an air of acrimony to the normally celebratory graduation ceremonies, which were held Monday morning at Madison Square Garden.
The 884 new police officers sat stoically in their seats when de Blasio was introduced to speak and many in the audience tepidly cheered. But boos could be heard from some in the crowd in the seats reserved for cadets' family and friends.
About a dozen or so people in the stands stood with their backs turned to de Blasio, emulating the searing pose of disrespect that hundreds of officers struck at Officer Rafael Ramos' funeral on Saturday. Some appeared to be in uniform but it was unclear if they were members of the New York Police Department.
De Blasio, a Democrat elected last year on the promises of keeping crime low while reforming the NYPD, effusively praised the new officers.
"It takes a special kind of person to put their lives on the line for others — to stare down the danger," he said. "Because that's what you will do. You will stare down the danger. You will keep the peace."
He continued: "You will confront all the problems that plague our society — problems that you didn't create."
But as he drew a breath to continue, a shout could be heard from the crowd, "You did!"
That comment was met with laughter and some applause from the crowd and briefly flustered de Blasio, who had been speaking at a quicker-than-normal pace, seemingly to eliminate any pauses that could have been filled with boos.
But he continued praising the officers and received polite applause when he finished speaking, though the cheers were not as loud as the ones that followed for Police Commissioner William Bratton. The ceremony also included several tributes to the fallen officers, Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
De Blasio departed the arena without taking questions.
He is far from the first mayor to be booed at a NYPD graduation: Both Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who were largely pro-cop, received some jeers during the midst of contract negotiations with the police unions.
But de Blasio's relations with the police are particularly fraught. The rhetoric from the unions — which are again seeking a new contract — heated up after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, who was black.
De Blasio spoke about cautioning his own son, who is half-black, about contact with police, and he has permitted anti-NYPD protesters to march freely. And when the two officers were gunned down Dec. 20 by a man who cited Garner as one of his motivations for violence, the unions said de Blasio had "blood on his hands" for fostering an atmosphere of anger toward police.
In an effort to clear the air, de Blasio and Bratton will meet with union leaders and other members of the NYPD senior leadership on Tuesday, administration officials announced.
Earlier Monday, de Blasio oversaw a swearing-in ceremony for probationary firefighters. There were no overt signs of protest.