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A la City Hall, Bratton's distrust of media grows

May 28, 1995

The poison of City Hall has infected One Police Plaza.

The venom between Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the City Hall press corps has been passed along to Commissioner William Bratton and the police reporters who cover him.

Initially, Bratton charmed much of the media, which has chronicled his every move from his trumpeting of dramatic decreases in crime statistics to dining at Elaine's restaurant with celebrities.

Bratton even hired a media consultant from New Mexico, who was paid $ 137,000 to promote what Bratton calls "culture change" within the NYPD. One such change called for making cops more respectful of the public.

At a time when Bratton needs his media machine the most, he can no longer use it to promote his, or the department's, image. Four months ago, Giuliani and his communications director Cristyne Lategano forced the resignation of Bratton's spokesman and confidant John Miller mainly because he helped boost Bratton's popularity with the public.

They also purged the department's public information office, known as DCPI, many of whose 28 cops had long-term relationships with reporters.

But now the media have become the enemy. The issue fueling the distrust is the cops' drunken rampage in Washington, D.C., an issue Bratton brought to the forefront by his own strong public statements. His frustration may reflect the fact that the vaunted NYPD police culture has proven resistant to his changes.

Last Friday, Miller's City Hall-appointed successor, Tom Kelly, took the unusual step of barring reporters working at One Police Plaza from the entire building, except for their own offices and that of the Public Information Office on the 13th floor. Reporters entering One Police Plaza who are not based inside the building, says Kelly, will be escorted by chaperones.

"It's a mess," says Alice T. McGillion, who served as deputy commissioner for public information for 10 years under two commissioners and for another year as First Deputy Commissioner. "In the 19 months Bratton has been here, he's gone to extremes, from romancing and wining the media to not allowing them to walk around the building. Neither one is particularly healthy."

Lategano, whose disputes with reporters are legion, contradicts this view. "Bratton is not having any problem with the media that I can see," she says. As for confining reporters to the 13th floor, she laughs, "How appropriate. Most buildings don't have a 13th floor. What better place to put them."

Kelly says that an incident last week, in which reporters camped outside the 12th-floor office of Internal Affairs Chief Patrick Kelleher, who was interviewing captains about the Washington rampage, precipitated the move. But that is only the latest in a series of recent events that reveal how relations between Bratton and his top staff, and the media, have deteriorated.

When at a news conference 10 days ago, a reporter for New York Newsday asked Bratton a question in violation of Kelly's instructions to end the news conference, Bratton's chief of staff Peter LaPorte chastised Kelly sotto voce, yet in public, for not being forceful enough.

Toward the end of last week, Bratton himself grew testy when asked by reporters about his earlier claims that arrests would be made over the Washington bacchanal. "You guys keep harping on this. Why don't you get off it?"

Last week, too, First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who has enjoyed good relations with the media, charged that reporters for The New York Times Printable versionand Daily News did not seek his comment on stories critical of him.

As a memo he sent to the in-house reporters put it, "This week, two articles . . . appeared which attacked me personally and inferentially my integrity. In neither was I asked to or afforded an opportunity to comment on the assertions made in each article.

"In the future, if you are writing an article which concerns me or attacks me, please have the decency to call my office and inquire if I have a comment. In all other matters concerning regular department business, please make requests through DCPI which is standard practice."

Kelly initially said that the Daily News reporter, John Marzulli, never called him to request an interview with Timoney or Bratton for his story. He later acknowledged Marzulli had indeed requested to interview them. But Kelly says Bratton vetoed the request and that Marzulli never asked him about the specific allegations about Timoney, a fact Marzulli denies. "He knew all about my story," Marzulli says.

Kelly added that the Times reporter, Clifford Krauss, never asked to speak to Timoney. Krauss declined comment.

Meanwhile, Kelly seems to be between a rock and a hard place. The DCPI staff has nine new cops, most of whom are inexperienced in public relations. Phone calls frequently go unanswered. Calls often are not returned. And Kelly, a veteran government official, as well as a reporter with 20 years experience, is working seven-day weeks.

The prestige of the department's once glamorous office has also suffered. Its in-house magazine, Spring 3100, has been removed from its jurisdiction and returned to the Police Academy. The movie unit, which under Miller also came under DCPI's purview, has been returned to the Special Operations Division under the Chief of Patrol.

More recently, DCPI's ambassadorial function has been eclipsed by the mayoral patronage office at NYPD, Community Affairs, which is now conducting tours of the building for out-of-state cops and foreigndignitaries. Such tours had formerly been given by DCPI.

Thinning Skin. Police Commissioner William Bratton talked tough the day that reports of his officers' beer-fueled Washington, D.C., bacchanal hit the papers. He promised dismissals, if proof of an offense was found. But in a few days, he appeared frustrated that no cops would come forward. And by the end of last week, he angrily turned on reporters, who had asked him why no officers had come forward.

Bratton on May 19, the day reports from Washington were published in New York: "If it rises to a dischargeable offense and the facts support that, then I would have no problem moving in that direction," he said, moments after calling cops "nitwits and morons" and added: "I'm being polite."

On May 22, speaking about the failure of officers to come forward to rat on their buddies: "I'm disappointed by that, but let's be realistic about it. The reality is that that's not the way it works. It doesn't work in the rest of American society and it doesn't work with cops."

On May 25, testily responding to reporters' repeated questions about why no cops were coming forward: "You guys keep harping on this. Why don't you get off it? You've been on it for a week and half. They're not talking voluntarily, that's it. So we have an investigation that's going to go forward. You all have this fixation, and that reporting on it, day after day after day, nothing is going to change. Wake up and smell the roses. That's the way it is."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1995 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.