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Floating scale of tolerance

March 31, 2003

When it comes to racist behavior by police officers, the NYPD seemed to have the patience of Job. Until Joseph Locurto came along.

Locurto was fired - at the urging of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani - for riding on a float in which he and two firemen took tasteless swipes at blacks during a Labor Day parade in Broad Channel in 1998. It was his first offense.

His case stands in stark contrast to those of other officers who were found guilty of racist behavior. A review of 20 such cases shows that only five of those cops were fired. All five were habitual offenders. Three had lied under oath - grounds for dismissal under former Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

The cases, from 1991 to 1998, span two mayors and four police commissioners. They were handled by the department's former Trials Commissioner, Rae Koshetz, and culled for evidence by Locurto's attorney, Christopher Dunn. Federal judge John Sprizzo, who is presiding over the hearing in Locurto's case, indicated last week that he is reading those cases closely.

Now, let's examine them.

On May 4, 1991, a former detective was found guilty of "addressing school monitors in a discourteous manner" and "uttering an ethnic slur to a civilian," as well as hitting a civilian. Penalty: none. The department decided his demotion from detective after the incident occurred was enough.

On June 1, 1992, an officer was found guilty of "addressing a resident in a discourteous and disrespectful behavior" and "uttering an ethnic slur." Penalty: loss of 10 vacation days.

On Sept. 15, 1992, an officer was found guilty of shoving a Traffic Enforcement Agent and "directing an ethnic slur." Penalty: loss of 15 vacation days.

On Nov. 7, 1992, an officer was convicted of punching a handcuffed prisoner and "wrongfully directing an ethnic slur toward a crowd." Penalty: suspension without pay for 30 days and one-year probation.

Another officer was found guilty of "uttering derogatory racial remarks" to 75th Precinct officers. "If you get it wrong, I will take you out and hang you from a tree," the officer also told the others. He also said, "All right, it's time for you to get to the back of the bus where you belong." The officer also made inappropriate sexual remarks. His penalty: a 20-day suspension without pay.

The department noted that the officer "was previously found guilty for loss of a gun for which he forfeited 10 vacation days." It added that "the respondent's derogatory and inappropriate sexual remarks to members of theservice were particularly troubling coming from a mid-level manager."

Now let's look at some of the dismissals.

On Nov. 20, 1995, an officer was found guilty of uttering an ethnic slur and punching a colleague in the nose, causing serious injury. The officer had been found guilty in five prior cases, including driving while intoxicated and making false statements.

Another officer was dismissed on Dec. 11, 1996 for making "false and misleading statements" and for addressing a police officer in a discourteous and disrespectful manner. "Do a dance for the man," the officer told one colleague. "Why don't you go drive Miss Daisy, you Uncle Tom?" he told another. In dismissing him, the Department noted that the officer had an extensive disciplinary record and had helped a tenant gain "access to a landlord's basement by kicking in a door and lying at an official interview."

A third officer was dismissed on Dec. 16, 1998, for "using discourteous and disrespectful remarks regarding a person's race, religion, gender and sexual orientation; using excessive force to effect an arrest, causing physical injury; and making false statements during an official investigation." The department noted that the officer "has been involved in several incidents of abusive behavior," including having been placed on a year's probation for using unnecessary force and having 21 cases with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He also was designated a chronic sick-leave abuser.

"The commissioner stated that it does not appear that further discipline would correct that behavior," the department said.

A fourth dismissed officer was found guilty on Feb. 18, 1998, of telling another person: "Your husband is a weasel. I'll show you the kind of person you're dealing with. This is not India, we speak English here." He had also, the department said, conducted "his private affairs, including rent collection, while off-duty and dressed in uniform" and had been convicted of committing an off-duty assault; the improper use of a firearm, and twice using excessive force on duty.

Lastly, on Feb. 19, 1998, an officer was dismissed after making "disrespectful remarks regarding a person's race" by saying to a member of the Yonkers police department: "How can you stick up for that black guy over me?" In dismissing the officer, the NYPD noted that he had been "found guilty of lying at two department hearings and at his departmental trial."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.