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Mayor in pilot seat

February 25, 2002

City Hall may refuse to divulge whether Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew his private jet to Bermuda or some other international hot spot over the past weekends. So let us be the first to inform the world that the mayor has done some joyriding in a police helicopter, albeit to a more mundane destination.

Police sources say that on Jan. 6 while being flown from Staten Island to the Bronx in an air/sea rescue Bell 412 police chopper to attend the inauguration of newly-elected borough president Adolfo Carrion, Bloomberg took the controls for an indeterminate period during the less-than-30-minute flight. The sources said the mayor neither took off nor landed the craft.

The Bell 412 is similar to a chopper Bloomberg has flown in the past and is one of two in the department's fleet of six.

It seats two pilots, two scuba divers and a crew chief and can hold two more people, a police spokesman said.

A police source said it was "probable" that others besides the police pilot were on Bloomberg's flight.

Normally, police helicopters are used for air/sea rescues, crowd control and searching for criminals. It is not unheard of, however, for police brass and their friends and relatives to ride in them. That includes mayors, although so far as known, no other mayor has piloted one.

Bloomberg's communications director Bill Cunningham said Bloomberg has licenses to pilot both jet planes and helicopters. Cunningham professed no knowledge of Bloomberg's Bell 412 joyride and referred questions to Bloomberg's spokesman Ed Skyler. Skyler did not return calls from Newsday.

The reaction to Bloomberg's flight has been mixed.

A police source said some officers at the Special Operations Division, which flies the copters, thought the mayor was doing something "cool."

Former first deputy and former Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney said: "If he is a licensed guy, if he wants to play with toys, it is no big deal. I would make sure he liked the helicopter and would put the arm on him for a new one."

Former Mayor David Dinkins said of Bloomberg's turn at the controls: "I'm fine with it. If he's licensed, I see no problem. I'm confident the people in charge were in control."

Deputy Police Commissioner for Public Information Michael O'Looney said: "Civilians are occasionally allowed to test or operate police equipment, especially when they are qualified to do so. The decision is usually left to the discretion of the commanding officer."

But another former top department official who asked not to be identified said:"Is he trained to fly a police helicopter? What about insurance? Do the department insurance policies allow a civilian to pilot its aircraft? What about police procedure? Does the department allow civilians to drive its patrol cars?"

According to newspaper reports, in 1976 Bloomberg walked away from his rented Enstrom F-28 helicopter when its engine caught fire. In 1995 he survived the propeller failure of a single-prop plane he was piloting midway through an aerial tour of Manhattan.

"If he was taking it [the police helicopter] up every weekend and flying it all over the city and being crazy, that is one thing," said another former top department official who also asked for anonymity.


Outsider In. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has appointed a third civilian to a top police position, something never before attempted in recent department history, if ever. He is Stephen Hammerman, a former vice president and general counsel at Merrill Lynch. Hammerman becomes deputy commissioner for legal matters.

He joins two other civilians in top department positions - former marine general Frank Libutti, who was named deputy commissioner for counter terrorism, and former CIA analyst David Cohen, who was named deputy commissioner of intelligence.

At Merrill Lynch, Hammerman was responsible for the warm relationship between the brokerage house and the department, hiring two former first deputies, Patrick J. Murphy and Patrick Kelleher, at six-figure salaries to serve as Merrill Lynch's director of security.

A police buff with a reputation for integrity, Hammerman in 1998 also was approached by former police commissioner Howard Safir and his wife, Carol, who were schnorring for money for the police museum of which Carol is president.

Hammerman turned them down.

Unfortunately, civilians in top positions have not fared well within the department. In his first tour as commissioner in the early 1990s, Kelly appointed Walter Mack, a federal prosecutor, to head the department's Internal Affairs Division after a collapse that led to the Mollen Commission on police corruption.

A year after Kelly retired, Mack was fired by his successor, Bill Bratton.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.