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Guidelines often misunderstood

October 7, 2002

When Ed Mamet commanded the criminal section of the Intelligence Division in 1994, he wanted detectives from the gang unit to attend a social meeting of the Latin Kings.

At the time, the group had a "history of violence" but its leadership had not been indicted for the drug trafficking that later sent them to prison, he said.

"It was just routine surveillance," Mamet said. "It was a rush job. We wanted to send a truck and photograph everyone who came in and out."

But Mamet said an Intel veteran told him he first needed approval from the Handschu Authority, a city panel established in the 1980s, which oversees how police gather intelligence.

"I had heard of Handschu," Mamet said, "but I didn't know its details."

Neither, did Intel's newly appointed commanding officer, who after consulting with the department's Legal Bureau nixed the surveillance, Mamet said.

Mamet said the Legal Bureau's head, Thomas Flanagan, later explained that the department favored repealing Handschu, but needed to track specific instances where the guidelines had curtailed criminal investigations. But "no one would take the initiative and do this," Mamet said.

"I felt Handschu was an unnecessary burden," he said. "To this day I do not understand its guidelines. Do they mean we can't put a group under surveillance for political activity even though we suspect criminal activity? That despite suspected criminal activity, we need to go to Handschu for approval each time a group conducts a political event? If so this defeats the purpose of surveillance. Isn't surveillance to establish criminal activity?"

Mamet's experience with Handschu appears representative of many department commanders if the e-mail messages One Police Plaza received in response to last week's column about Commissioner Ray Kelly's efforts to abolish the guidelines is any indication.

The commanders say Handschu restricted their investigations into such groups as an Albanian burglary ring, Hell's Angels or the gang of Sayyid Al Nosair, who was convicted of assassinating Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Yet when questioned, the commanders acknowledge they never went to Handschu for approval.

"It was the specter of Handschu," one of the commanders wrote. "The Legal Bureau said that my requests did not fall within the guidelines."

Yet two former top department officials familiar with Handschu say the authority never blocked any legitimate criminal investigations.

"There seems to be some confusion," said Rosemary Carroll, the former assistant deputy commissioner of legal affairs. "An assault by Hell's Angels is not protected by Handschu. You don't go to legal. You go to the [detective] bureau."

A former top commander familiar with Handschu matters said: "The mindset became, 'Because of Handschu don't investigate.' There has to be critical thinking and common sense. The rules suck but they are not incredibly onerous. They are the price of bad conduct in the past."

As for the Latin Kings, the commander, who asked that his name not be used, said: "If Mamet's facts are correct, you go to the meeting unilaterally, then file a report with Handschu to keep the case open for 60 days."

The commander said if a social group was suspected of planning criminal activity, then Handschu applied. But it didn't apply to a criminal group. "The Latin Kings were a criminal enterprise from beginning to end. And Handschu was no barrier," he said.

Queens Explosion. It's been three months since July 4 but some Queens homeowners are still steaming about the 111th Precinct's languid response to a neighbor's illegal fireworks display for the second year in a row.

Frank Skala of the East Bayside Homeowners Association says the precinct promised a forceful response and despite a video the group made of the fireworks display took no action.

Skala says he has sent two letters to Kelly, only receiving "a two-sentence brush off note" in response. The note, he said, has a "scrawled signature that might be D.C. McCann." It tells him the matter is being forwarded within the department but doesn't say to whom.

Tony and Mike. Yes, that was Michael O'Looney, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of public information, playing a television reporter in last week's episode of "the Sopranos."

"They were looking for a male reporter," said O'Looney, who formerly worked for WCBS-TV. "I auditioned. It was a one-day shoot. It was fun."

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.