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Commission just another joke?

August 25, 1997

In appointing a 28-man commission after a cop allegedly shoved the handle of a toilet plunger up the rectum of a Haitian immigrant in the bathroom of Brooklyn's 70th Precinct, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani revealed a side of himself never before seen by the public. The man has a sense of humor.

How else to account for the fact that this same mayor has ignored or rejected every recommendation of every recent commission that reviewed police misconduct - most blatantly, two key recommendations of the Mollen Commission that apply directly to the 70th Precinct incident?

One is the formation of an outside body, independent of the mayor, to monitor the department's long-troubled Internal Affairs unit, which, the department now admits, botched (and perhaps even attempted to conceal) initial notification from the hospital where the victim, Abner Louima, was treated.

Here is what the Mollen Commission said about an outside monitor:

"If history proves anything, it is that when the glare of scrutiny shines on the Department, it can and will successfully police itself. History also proves that left to its own devices, the Department will backslide and its commitment to integrity will erode. It is no coincidence that the only two times in the past 20 years that fighting corruption has been a priority in the Department was when an independent commission publicly reviewed and disclosed the Department's failure to keep its own house in order . . . Indeed, law enforcement officials unanimously told us that the Department's heightened commitment and vigilance began only after the creation of this independent oversight Commission."

As a federal prosecutor who investigated police corruption, Giuliani, like every other law enforcement professional familiar with the NYPD, favored an outside monitor. Since becoming mayor, however, he has opposed it, while the department has become more secretive and political than any time in memory.

A top police chief asked this reporter not to call his office. Another chief refuses to leave his name on this reporter's police telephone line. Such is the atmosphere at One Police Plaza - where, under Giuliani, disagreement is seen as disloyalty and most police decisions are made at City Hall - that many chiefs believe their phone calls are monitored.

A second Mollen Commission recommendation relating directly to Louima's case that the department has ignored concerns its chronically inadequate patrol supervision on the midnight to 8 a.m. tour, where all recent scandals - whether in the 77th, the 48th or the 30th Precincts - have surfaced.

Printable versionAt the time Louima was injured - at 4 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 9 - no officer above the rank of sergeant was assigned to the 70th Precinct. No captain. No lieutenant. Democratic mayoral candidate Sal Albanese, a member of the City Council's Public Safety Committee for the past 15 years, says this is standard practice on weekend midnight tours. "Young sergeants, 31, 32 years old, are running precincts," Albanese says. "It is replicated throughout the city."

Sgt. Jeffrey Fallon, the desk officer at the 70th Precinct when Louima was injured, was never informed a prisoner needed medical attention. Although the patrol guide states the desk officer must ensure the holding cells are inspected every hour and make a written notation, Fallon never inspected the cell where Louima lay bleeding for two hours before an ambulance was called. "Either he was lazy," explained a top chief, "or he heard the screams and didn't want to get involved." Fallon has been suspended.

No Stun Gun Redux. In 1985, after cops in Queens' 106th Precinct fired a stun gun at Mark Davidson, a suspected drug dealer, while in police custody, then-police commissioner Benjamin Ward dismissed top chiefs up through borough commander and chief of patrol. Giuliani's options in Brooklyn's 70th Precinct scandal appear more circumscribed. Although he transferred the 70th Precinct's commander Deputy Inspector Jeremiah Quinlan (let's drop any illusion that Police Commissioner Howard Safir runs the NYPD), Giuliani can't discipline anyone higher.

Reason: Quinlan's superior, Brooklyn South borough commander Patrick Brennan, had been placed in that command only a month ago, after Giuliani personally fired his predecessor because of complaints from the borough's Hasidic Jews.

The Big Chill? Can it be true? Can there be a rift between ex-police commissioner Bill Bratton and ex-deputy commissioner Jack Maple? And not over their gigantic egos but over a competing police consulting contract in Birmingham, Ala.? Still, Maple was said to be attending yesterday's clambake at Bratton's summer digs on Long Island's East End. Bratton's wife, Cheryl Fiandaca, did not, as promised, call Newsday to confirm the Jackster's appearance.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.