By Frank McGurty
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tensions between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police are rooted in issues that go beyond racial relations, the police commissioner said on Sunday, a day after the funeral of one of two officers slain a week ago as they sat in their patrol car.
The tensions "involve labor contracts. They involve a lot of history in the city that's really different from some of what's going on in the country as a whole,” Commissioner Bill Bratton said on NBC’s “Meet the Press."
"You need to understand this isn't just about policing,” he said. “This is about the continuing poverty rates, the continuing growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. It's still about unemployment issues."
On Saturday, thousands of police officers assembled outside the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos turned their backs on the mayor as he spoke at the ceremony, a sign of disrespect after what they perceived as lukewarm support by de Blasio.
The gunman who shot Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu, had pledged to take revenge on police for the deaths of two black men who died in confrontations with white officers last summer.
The black men's deaths triggered a wave of demonstrations against police violence in New York and other cities during the fall, and de Blasio voiced qualified support for the protests.
But the murder of Ramos and Liu, which authorities described as an assassination, triggered a backlash and led the head of the city's largest police union, Patrick Lynch, to say the mayor had the officers' blood on his hands.
Bratton also appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation," where he defended de Blasio, saying the mayor completely supported the police and has secured money for training and safety programs. The commissioner said it was inappropriate for officers to turn their backs on the mayor.
Bratton told NBC the city's leadership would make an effort to ease the tensions with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
"I think it's probably a rift that is going to go on for a while longer,” he said. "However, we will be making efforts to sit down and talk with the union leaders in particular to deal with their issues."
On CBS, Bratton said more than 50 threats against officers have been investigated since the deaths of Ramos and Liu, whose funeral arrangements are still pending.
“Morale in the department at this time is low, there is no getting around that,” he said. “And it’s low for a multiplicity of reasons.”
Bratton appeared on the CBS program with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was generally unequivocal in his support of the police during his two terms in office.
De Blasio was partly at fault for the backlash by police, Giuliani said, but he agreed that officers should not have turned their backs when the mayor spoke.
"He created an impression with the police that he was on the side of the protestors," Giuliani said. "Some of those protestors were entirely legitimate, some of those protestors were horrible.”
(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo.; editing by Matthew Lewis)