Is JP Morgan Getting a Good Return on $4.6 Million “Gift” to NYC Police?
No matter how you look at this development, it does not smell right. From JP Morgan’s website, hat tip Lisa Epstein:
Perhaps I remember too much of the scruffy and not exactly safe New York City of the 1980s, where getting your wallet pinched was a pretty regular occurrence. My perception has been that police-related charities have relied overmuch on the never-stated notion that if you didn’t donate, you might not get the speediest response if you needed help. As a mere apartment-dweller, I can’t imagine that anyone could scan incoming 911 calls against a priority list. But the flip side is if I owned a retail store and thought the beat police would keep an extra eye on it if I gave to a police charity, it would seem like an awfully cheap form of insurance.
But what, pray tell, is this about? The JPM money is going directly from the foundation to the NYPD proper, not to, say, cops injured in the course of duty or police widows and orphans. But that is how the NYPD Police Foundation works. From its website:
Given when the NYC Police Foundation was formed, it looked to have been a desperate move during New York City’s fiscal crisis (remember the infamous headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead”?) When I moved to the city in 1981, pretty much everyone I knew who lived in a non-doorman building had suffered a break-in. Guiliani’s reputation was built on cleaning up a perceived-to-be unsafe city (which he did by hiring William Bratton). Even in the later 1980s, when I lived in a townhouse on 69th between Park and Madison (translation: good neighborhood), I’d be the first out of the building in the AM. The inner door to the townhouse was locked, the outer one was closed but unlocked. I’d always have to navigate my way out carefully so as not to waken the homeless person sleeping in the vestibule.
So while this effort to supplement taxpayer funding has a certain logic, it raises the nasty specter of favoritism, that if private funding were to become a significant part of the Police Department’s total budget, it would understandably give priority to its patrons.
And look at the magnitude of the JP Morgan “gift”. The Foundation has been in existence for 40 years. If you assume that the $100 million it has received over that time is likely to mean “not much over $100 million” this contribution could easily be 3-4% of the total the Foundation have ever received.
Now readers can point out that this gift is bupkis relative to the budget of the police department, which is close to $4 billion. But looking at it on a mathematical basis likely misses the incentives at work. Dimon is one of the most powerful and connected corporate leaders in Gotham City. If he thinks the police donation was worthwhile, he might encourage other bank and big company CEOs to make large donations.
And what sort of benefits might JPM get? It is unlikely that there would be anything as crass as an explicit quid pro quo. But it certainly is useful to be confident that the police are on your side, say if an executive or worse an entire desk is caught in a sex or drugs scandal. Recall that Charles Ferguson in Inside Job alleged that the use of hookers is pervasive on Wall Street (duh) and is invoiced to the banks.
Or the police might be extra protective of your interests. Today, OccupyWallStreet decided to march across the Brooklyn Bridge (a proud New York tradition) to Chase Manhattan Plaza in Brooklyn. Reports in the media indicate that the police at first seemed to be encouraging the protestors not only to cross the bridge, but were walking in front of the crowd, seemingly escorting them across:
The wee problem is that the police are in the street, and part of the crowd is also on the street (others are on a pedestrian walkway that is above street level). That puts them in violation of NYC rules that against interfering with traffic. Note the protest were aware fo the rules; they were careful to stay on the sidewalk on the way to the bridge.
Over 700 of the marchers were arrested, and the media has a rather amusing “he said, she said” account, with OccupyWallStreet claiming entrapment and the cops batting their baby blues and trying to look innocent. From the New York Times:
The part I find more interesting, which has not been as well reported, is that some (many?) the protestors who used the walkway and got across the bridge were also corralled and not permitted to proceed to the Chase plaza. Greg Basta, deputy director of the New York Communities for Change, told me by phone, based on multiple reports from people who participated in the march, that as soon as protestors got to the Brooklyn side of the bridge, they were kettled. Greg was under the impression that there were construction barricades at the foot of the bridge which made it impossible for the marchers not to walk on the street. Because the focus has been on the what happened on the bridge, the coverage of what happened to the rest of crowd is sparse.
Some confirmation in passing comes from MsExPat at Corrente (apparently some of the very first off the bridge were permitted to proceed):
But notice even then that the procession to Chase Manhattan Plaza [correction, Cadman Plaza} was effectively barred. [Note JPM may have operations nearby, Bear Stearns had much of its back office there, and if the leases were cheap, JPM may have kept the space].
We simply don’t know whether the police would have behaved one iota differently in the absence of the JP Morgan donation. But it raises the troubling perspective that they might have. Richard Kline pointed out that that local policing was important protection against control by the elites:
So far, the JP Morgan donation is an isolated example. But the high odds of continuing deep budget cuts at the state and local level open up the opportunity for corporate funding of preferred services, and with it, much greater private sector influence on the apparatus of government. This is a worrisome enough possibility to warrant a high degree of vigilance by all of us.
Update 5:00 AM: Debra C, via e-mail, points to FreakOut Nation, which has screen shots to show how the New York Times edited the OccupyWallStreet story after it went live to make it less protestor friendly: