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NYPD vs. City Hall: Who's the Boss?

February 11, 2018

Seven months after Larry Byrne retired as NYPD deputy commissioner for legal matters, his position remains unfilled.

An independent panel commissioned by Commissioner James O’Neill cited the position as “critical” to making structural changes to the NYPD’s disciplinary system that include more transparency and accountability. The panel noted in its report that the position of DCLM “has been vacant since July 30, 2018 when Lawrence Byrne retired.”

O’Neill has said he accepted all of panel’s recommendations.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialYet, according to police sources, three people who O’Neill interviewed to succeed Byrne and whose names he passed on months ago to City Hall for approval were all rejected. Like Byrne, one of the candidates was a former assistant U.S. attorney with a police family background.

Not filling a key spot with one of O’Neill’s recommended candidates places the commissioner in a delicate space: the perception that the commissioner is allowing City Hall to vet or appoint its own people to the department’s top positions.

A similar situation occurred in March after the retirement of department spokesman Steve Davis. While the past three police commissioners — Bill Bratton, Bernie Kerik, and Howard Safir — selected their own spokespersons with no City Hall interference, City Hall selected Davis’s successor: Phillip Walzak, who worked in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 and 2017 campaigns.

The Daily News described him at the time of his appointment as a “City Hall operative,” amid concerns that he might serve the mayor rather than the NYPD.

In the case of the deputy commissioner for legal matters, not since the bullying days of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has City Hall exercised veto power over a top department appointment that has traditionally been the commissioner’s call. Byrne, for example, was appointed by Bratton in 2013, and not even interviewed by City Hall.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittA forceful and independent sort, Byrne, however, created problems for the department and the mayor with his interpretation of state law 50-A, which he said limits disclosure of police officers’ disciplinary records. While infuriating politicians, civil rights advocates and much of the media [including NYPD Confidential], his interpretation has been upheld by the state courts.

So why has City Hall refused to accept O’Neill’s recommendation on Byrne’s successor?

Police sources said the roadblock appears to be Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, who, the sources said, sought at one point to place one of his assistants in the job. Carter did not respond to an inquiry by NYPD Confidential. Instead, Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci asked whether NYPD Confidential’s sources spoke on or off the record.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialWalzak then responded with the following email: “These rumors are false. The truth is the NYPD is engaged in a comprehensive process to identify the best person for the DCLM position. The Police Commissioner has interviewed a number of qualified candidates, and a decision is expected soon. The office and the Department have been skillfully served by acting Commissioner [Ann] Prunty, who has successfully steered the NYPD through a number of important and complex issues over the past several months.”

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