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The video of the final moments in the life of Eric Garner and his cries for help — “I can’t breathe” — ignited swift outrage, launching a campaign against aggressive policing and fueling the Black Lives Matter movement.

Five years later, the firing on Monday of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer whose chokehold led to Mr. Garner’s death, brought its own measure of scorn from the opposite end of the political spectrum, this time from incensed police unions.

On Monday, union leaders loudly accused the mayor and police commissioner of undercutting their ability to enforce laws in an effort to appease “anti-police extremists” and urged officers to call in their supervisors before making an arrest.

But in the broad middle bands of the Police Department, within the precinct houses and detective squads of the city’s five boroughs, reaction to the firing of Officer Pantaleo was more complex, defying the outdated image of the police marching in lock step in support of one of their own.

Some were angered and uneasy with what seemed to be a shift in the rules of engagement on the streets. Others said Officer Pantaleo had been sacrificed out of political necessity to avert protests. A few supported the move, agreeing the officer had been reckless.

But for many, Officer Pantaleo’s dismissal was another chapter in a longer story, sending again the message that police brass might no longer support aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses.

That shift, some officers believe, has led to a loss of status on the street. In recent weeks, several videos have emerged of officers being doused with water by members of the public, stoically taking the abuse — and then being chastised from above for not making arrests to assert their authority.

“They’ve created a whole breed of cop who is afraid to put their hands on people,” a sergeant said. “They created a breed of cop that is just petrified.”

For many in the Police Department, the firing of Officer Pantaleo is just the latest repudiation of “broken windows” policing in a city where five years can mark a generational shift. Arresting a man for selling loose and untaxed cigarettes, as Mr. Garner was suspected of doing that day in 2014, seems to many younger officers a concept as dated as a six-shooter and a nightstick.

Since Mr. Garner’s death, the department has been overhauled, and the new strategy is to build ties with the community.

“It used to be ‘How many summons did you write?’” said another veteran sergeant, who, like most of the officers interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work. “Now it’s, ‘How many community visits did you have? How many uploads to Twitter or Facebook do you have? Did you go into the dry cleaner’s and shake his hand and put it on Twitter?’”

Older officers with more arrests in their background see the Garner video differently. They watch Officer Pantaleo and they see themselves.

“I don’t think anyone who’s been an active cop looks at that situation and thinks that situation had been handled poorly,” one veteran detective said. “I think anybody thinks they could be in that situation.”

In Manhattan on Tuesday, a group of officers sat down together for lunch in a Popeyes. Talk quickly turned to the Pantaleo firing, and one of the officers pulled out a cellphone and played the chokehold video.

Yes, they agreed, that’s a forbidden move. Yes, he should not have used it that day. But sometimes, in the heat of a messy arrest, instinct to grab a person’s head momentarily takes over.

“I’ve done the same thing in the past,” one police officer at the lunch admitted. “The only difference is it wasn’t on video and nobody died.”

Almost all the officers approached this week expressed disappointment at the actions of the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, long considered a “cop’s cop” after a three-decade career in uniform.

“I think the commissioner basically caved,” the veteran detective said. “That’s a really bad message to send to the troops.”

A sergeant who has worked anti-crime details, as Officer Pantaleo did, expressed scorn for Commissioner O’Neill’s long, personal analysis of the case in announcing the firing, in which he said he might have made a similar mistake if he had been in Officer Pantaleo’s shoes. “These guys are so disconnected from working cops, it’s a joke to hear them talking about what they would have done,” the sergeant said.


But many veterans also said that in their view, Mayor Bill de Blasio bore much of the responsibility, not just for Mr. Pantaleo’s firing, but for a generally low morale among officers, who they said feel undermined by the administration’s efforts to decriminalize minor offenses and divert more defendants away from jail and prison.

“It just seems that the mayor’s attitude has everybody afraid of acting and doing their job the way they’re supposed to,” said Officer William Rivera, who is a union delegate. “It’s become a job where it’s reactive rather than proactive, and the guys that are out there being proactive are the ones who’ll wind up getting hurt.”

For the mayor, his response to the death of Eric Garner has been, since the beginning, a balancing act between his progressive rhetoric and his need to avoid alienating his own police force.

After Mr. Garner’s death, large-scale street protests took place in the city. By year’s end, after two officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were assassinated by a gunman — an act that some linked to the new anti-police culture — officers turned their backs on the mayor at the funerals.

The moment shook City Hall, and Mr. de Blasio has worked to win back a measure of grudging support from skeptical officers, spending heavily on modernizing the department and increasing hiring. He has also defended broken-windows policing. But at the same time, he and his commissioner went forward with changes in strategy that dramatically lowered the number of arrests.

Several officers said Commissioner O’Neill sacrificed Officer Pantaleo to avoid public unrest. The firing, they said, was the long foregone outcome to one of the most socially and politically charged moments in recent years.

“I was disappointed, but not surprised,” one sergeant in Manhattan said. “It seems that everything was predestined for some time.”

Some officers believe that Commissioner O’Neill sacrificed a single officer to appease the vocal masses.

“The price to pay for him standing on his principles and not firing him would have been paid by many other people,” one former chief said Tuesday. An officer in Brooklyn put it more bluntly: “We’d be out there in riot gear.”

A few officers said they supported Mr. O’Neill’s decision. “I can’t be the only person who watched that video and read about the injuries to that man’s neck and was embarrassed that people in my profession were supporting a bad cop who did a bad job,” said one female sergeant in Manhattan.

She added that the escalation of the Garner arrest that led to the chokehold is indicative of the longstanding macho culture in the department. “I promise you, Eric Garner would be alive today if they’d sent two women to arrest him,” she said.

The head of the largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, urged officers “to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed reckless just for doing their jobs.” The leader of the detectives’ union followed suit.

Still, few officers foresaw any meaningful response to what sounded like a call for a slowdown in arrests.

“What are you going to do? Not show up to 911 jobs?” the Manhattan sergeant said. “No one’s going to do that.”

A former police chief said times had changed, and solidarity among officers was more fluid. The last time there had been a drop off in arrests was in December 2014, when the department was reeling over the assassinations of Officers Ramos and Liu.

“I don’t see the cops sticking together like they used to,” the chief said. “They’re different cops. They’re more independent acting, they’re not cohesive.”

Edgar Sandoval, Laura Dimon, Nate Schweber, Irene Plagianos and Derek Norman contributed reporting.

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