GOP hopefuls: no more secrets
September 4, 2001
Having presented the views of the four Democratic mayoral candidates on police issues, One Police Plaza Confidential now offers those of the two Republicans, Michael Bloomberg and Herman Badillo. Both call for a new openness in the department, which they say has been far too secretive.
Bloomberg, the billionaire financier, presents himself as a professional manager lacking law enforcement expertise. He said he has met with such police officials as commissioner Bernard Kerik, former commissioners Howard Safir, Ray Kelly and Robert McGuire, as well as with Eric Adams, the maverick lieutenant who heads the group known as 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement.
"The big conceptual issue from a strategic point of view," said Bloomberg, "is the use of specialized units such as Street Crime, as opposed to community policing. Every commissioner I have talked to says specialized units are integral to reducing crime."
Of the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African emigrant, by four members of the Street Crime Unit, Bloomberg said: "There have been allegations that the unit expanded too quickly, but professionals say this is not the case. What broke down in the case of Diallo was the supervision and training."
To select his police commissioner, Bloomberg said he would rely on two components. "I rely on other professionals to tell me if he [the candidate] has the professional skills," he said. "It is my own judgment if this person has the same morals and ethics I share.
"My whole management approach is to find the best people I can and give them the authority along with the responsibility. My view is that the mayor isn't the police commissioner. You want a police commissioner to make police decisions. The mayor's job is to oversee, not to do the commissioner's job."
Referring to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Bloomberg said: "In the past, Rudy inserted himself into the process. But it [the police department] is something he has expertise in. It [Giuliani's involvement] is less today than before. It may be a function of less need or of maturity, or maybe he has more confidence."
Bloomberg said he opposes the secrecy that has characterized the department under Giuliani. "I believe in an open department. Except for certain personnel documents, I am a believer in putting all the information out there. The essence of a free society is the right to information."
Of the Street Crime cops who shot and killed Diallo, Bloomberg said: "Legally, you cannot fire them. They have their rights. I personally would not put them on the streets with a gun. I'd find a way to avoid that if I possibly could. It sends the wrong message."
Badillo, the veteran pol and long-shot candidate, said: "The Police Department needs to be more open. There is no need for the secrecy that leads to racial polarization. If we don't let the community know what is going on, we get accusations of racial profiling. Secrecy hurts the police. You can't have a city agency that acts like the CIA."
Referring to Safir, whom Giuliani has called "the greatest commissioner in the history of the city," Badillo said: "Howard's secrecy was damaging to the city. Howard didn't want to talk. They [he and Giuliani] loved the secrecy. They didn't want to meet with the community. It was like the CIA. Like being in the CIA.
"I was on his [Giuliani's] committee to choose a commissioner in 1994. I gave a favorable opinion on [Bill] Bratton," who was Giuliani's first commissioner. "It came down to Bratton versus Ray Kelly. [Guy] Molinari [Staten Island borough president] was supporting Kelly. I felt Kelly offered nothing new. And I was right. But Bratton also engaged in excessive secrecy."
Referring to both Bratton's and Safir's use of an entourage, Badillo continued, "The police commissioner does not need an entourage. He is not important. They feel there is something special about them, that they stand above the crowd. He is a commissioner like any other commissioner. The idea of super security and a huge entourage to impress everyone wherever you go is unacceptable, not even for the mayor.
"As a congressman, every summer, police would ask me to help them close fire hydrants at night because water-pressure levels would be down at Lincoln Hospital. So I would get in the back of a police car," recalled Badillo.
"From the police car, I would hear the boos. The hostility towards the cops was clear. I would tell the people we have to keep the hydrants closed, and while I was doing this, the police were closing the hydrants," he said.
"This dramatizes the hostility that exists, and to deny it is to be out of touch with reality. We have to devise ways to deal with it. We have to get more blacks and Latinos on the force. The overwhelming percentage of whites gives blacks and Latinos the impression that the department is an army of occupation," said Badillo.
© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.