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Bratton's return is quiet big deal

March 25, 2002

There were no pipers from the Emerald Society. No news conference. Not even a formal announcement.

Bill Bratton's return to One Police Plaza to attend his first Compstat crime strategy meeting since he was fired as police commissioner six years ago went unheralded.

But make no mistake.

In an institution where symbols reveal more than language, Bratton's return to observe the program he founded, and which now symbolizes the department's crime-fighting successes, marks a turn in NYPD history.

An effusive Bratton said in a telephone interview that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was "very gracious" in allowing him to accompany a group of British law enforcement officials to the Compstat session in the eighth-floor command center.

"Ray is someone I have the utmost respect for," Bratton said. "Ray doesn't feel threatened by other people. He is comfortable with himself. He has nothing to fear from me."

Kelly, a disciplined man, said only that he acted out of "professional courtesy." Bratton and Kelly share bitter common ground. Both were fired by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who later dismissed each man's accomplishments.

For the past eight years, Kelly, who Giuliani dismissed in 1994, has held a grudge against Bratton over what he felt were Bratton's usurpation of his job and his successes. An example: Kelly's crackdown on squeegee men in late 1993, for which Bratton and Giuliani took credit.

In response, Bratton aides have maintained through the years that Kelly's anger was misplaced and should have been directed at Giuliani.

Bratton revolutionized the job of police commissioner by turning himself into a celebrity, further rankling traditionalists like Kelly. Bratton also brought innovation to the department, not the least of which was the Compstat program, begun by his top aide, the late Jack Maple.

Compstat - notable for Maple's in-your-face grilling of top commanders on their crime strategies - drew national and international attention.

Yet after Giuliani dismissed Bratton in 1996, his successor, Howard Safir - whom Giuliani termed "the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city" - took the unprecedented step in law enforcement circles of publicly disparaging Bratton, calling him "some airport cop from Boston."

He also banned Bratton from a Compstat convention attended by national law enforcement figures and open to the public at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

Giuliani, meanwhile, tried to appropriate Maple's Compstat legacy, sitting in the first row of Maple's funeral service at St. Patrick's Cathedral last year and delivering a eulogy.

Kelly, meanwhile, got back at Bratton by endorsing Michael Bloomberg for mayor, while Bratton backed the hapless Mark Green.

Bloomberg then reappointed Kelly, the first man to become commissioner twice.

In his new official photograph, which hangs in virtually every office at One Police Plaza, Kelly has an eye half-closed, an eyebrow raised and a half-smile or smirk that some people interpret as saying, "Bet you thought I'd never be back."

The Fist of Fury.
Here is the Police Department's version of the controversial March 1 events at the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn, which some feel echoed the moments transpiring before Abner Louima was attacked in the 70th Precinct five years ago.

The March 1 prisoner was a black man, Kaisheem Powell, arrested for drug possession by a white lieutenant, George Jackman. Powell bit Jackman during the arrest.

In front of the desk sergeant and other officers, Jackman gave the then-handcuffed Powell a shot to the head with his fist.

Powell requested hospital treatment. Department procedure calls for the Emergency Medical Service to be called in such circumstances. But when EMS arrived, Powell said he did not want to go to the hospital, although he refused to sign a waiver saying he was not injured. EMS left him at the precinct.

Here's where the comparison to the Louima incident changes, though.

Within an hour of the incident, two investigators from the Internal Affairs Bureau arrived, alerted by an anonymous telephone call believed to be from an officer who witnessed Jackman striking Powell.

Powell was subsequently indicted for drug possession with intent to sell.

Jackman was placed on modified assignment for striking a handcuffed prisoner and faces potential department charges. Officers are said to be cooperating with the investigation.

Seven-pound bust of Bernard Kerik in uniform, with mustache and nameplate reading "Kerik," mounted on wooden platform.

Proceeds to help Police Foundation recoup $3,000 it spent on 29 more busts of the former commissioner, all of which are languishing at the foundation's Park Avenue headquarters. Send bids to this column's e-mail address.

Warning: Busts' market value appears uncertain. Not even Police Museum seems interested. Executive Director Ninfa Segarra says artifacts must be approved by police commissioner.

"No comment," says Kelly.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.