Black officers hit glass ceiling
April 22, 2002
Let's not be so quick to dismiss Lt. Eric Adams' criticism that under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, African-American police officers are "losing ground."
Adams, who heads a maverick group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, has said Kelly has not brought the department's few top blacks into operative positions; has ghettoized them in the declasse Housing and School Safety bureaus; has promoted to first deputy a white officer perceived by some blacks in the department as anti-black; and has killed a minority recruitment effort begun by a former black chief.
Kelly's publicity machine reacted in high dudgeon.
Department spokesman Michael O'Looney said Adams "made outrageous statements in the hopes of getting headlines."
The department's pliant minority establishment, the Hispanic Society and the Guardians Association, which represents black officers, lined up behind Kelly. And local pundits noted that Kelly earned his minority bona-fides a decade ago under Mayor David Dinkins.
But let's examine what Adams is saying. Let's begin with blacks in top department positions.
There are none.
The highest ranking black, the invisible three-star chief Douglas Zeigler, heads the Housing Bureau. Next highest, Assistant Chief Monte Long, heads School Safety.
Only three black officers head precincts. None heads a detective squad.
Adams also cited Kelly's ending the successful minority recruitment program for traffic enforcement agents and school safety officers. The program had been begun by former Chief of Personnel James Lawrence, an African-American, who recently departed to head the Nassau County Police Department.
Adams also criticized the promotion of George Grasso to first deputy commissioner, citing his role in the dismissal of former black deputy commissioner Sandra Marsh, who was awarded $1 million after she sued the department.
Grasso, then deputy commissioner for legal matters, was cited as retaliating against Marsh after she refused an order from Kelly's predecessor Howard Safir to rewrite a report critical of two chiefs.
Perhaps more tellingly, Grasso authorized the surveillance of Adams for reasons that neither Adams nor the department have fully explained.
So far as this reporter can tell, there is not an anti-black bone in Grasso's body. If he has a failing, it's that he unhesitatingly follows his boss's orders. In the Police Department, that's how you get promoted.
One person Adams omitted was James Fyfe, the so-called expert in police tactics, to be sworn in Friday as the department's director of training.
At the trial of the four white officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo, Fyfe, a former police lieutenant, testified that the four followed procedure.
"It was not only appropriate for the officers to pursue him," Fyfe said of Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant. "It was necessary."
One doesn't have to be black to wonder what message Fyfe's appointment sends. Nor does one have to be black to wonder what tactics Fyfe will be teaching recruits at the police academy.
Nor why Kelly has never been asked to explain this.
But Friday at his retirement dinner at the Sheraton, the night was his. His publisher Judith Regan purchased a table and produced a film presentation of him. Rudolph Giuliani praised Kerik's conduct on Sept. 11 and said that rather than his being a lost son, "He was the brother I never had." Kerik never made any apology for what he was or where he came from.
Except for the cockamamy idea of having the Police Foundation pay $3,000 for 30 busts of himself, he never lost his humility.
There remains a childlike innocence about him, as when he said in his farewell speech, "There really are good people in the media."
And at the head table, radiant in white, chatting animatedly with his teenage son Joe and already accepted as part of his family, was his newly discovered daughter.
"President [Patrick] Lynch opted for in-house communications counsel because he felt the high-level expertise such a communicator brings is essential to smoothly integrate communications strategy with overall strategic objectives for the union," the release said of the former New York Transit spokesman.
Now if O'Leary can only learn to write English.
© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.