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Watchdog post finally filled

August 25, 2003

Here is the largest police department in the world. Here is a police commissioner terrorizing his top brass, dismissive of all criticism, and relying solely on his own judgments. And the only check on him and the department is a commission so ineffectual that until two weeks ago Mayor Michael Bloomberg forgot to staff it.

Formed in 1996 by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after deciding he didn't want a serious body overseeing the department's anti-corruption efforts - an oxymoron in itself - the Commission to Combat Police Corruption was headed by Richard Davis, a white-shoe lawyer who avoided investigating anything resembling corruption.

Davis promised to investigate how after the deputy commissioner for trials had recommended his dismissal, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate Jay Creditor was able to buy back his job for $50,000, then retire with a $1 million disability pension.

Despite then-commissioner Howard Safir's contradictory remarks about his own role, Davis reneged on his promise. Instead, he produced a series of esoteric, virtually unreadable reports on the Internal Affairs Bureau.

Monitoring corruption within the department has always been problematic. Payoffs by gamblers to department higher-ups occurred for generations under the nose of so-called "Mr. DA" - former Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan. Payoffs by drug dealers to cops in the 30th Precinct in Manhattan continued under Hogan's successor, Robert Morgenthau.

Both came to light only with the appointment of outside monitors, first the Knapp and more recently, the Mollen Commission. Both recommended permanent outside monitors with subpoena powers. The years between the commissions - from the early 1970s to the early 1990s - saw that with the appointment of a special state prosecutor.

But that, too, proved no panacea. The last special prosecutor, Joe Hynes, was so busy running for Brooklyn district attorney he ignored warnings about police officer Michael Dowd's drug-dealing in Brooklyn's 75th Precinct. Dowd's arrest by Suffolk county police in 1992 led to the formation of the Mollen commission.

In the early '90s, Kelly served as first deputy, overseeing departmental discipline. He was slow to accept the establishment of the Mollen commission when he was named commissioner in 1992. He later appointed Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor, head of Internal Affairs.

Kelly's successor, Bill Bratton, fired him.

Now Bloomberg has appointed Mark Pomerantz, a former chief of the criminal division of the Manhattan U.S. attorney.

Pomerantz helped convict police officer Frank Livoti, accused of using a chokehold that led to the death of Anthony Baez in the Bronx in 1994. Acquitted by a Bronx judge, Livoti is in federal prison on a civil rights violation.

Pomerantz, currently in private practice, says he's serious about his new job. If so, he might start investigating anecdotal evidence that the department routinely doctors crime statistics.

He might explore how - as reported in this newspaper last month - Bronx Lt. Bridget Banuchi forged the signature of a complainant, reducing the amount of stolen goods reported to $500 so that the crime became a misdemeanor, not a felony.

How does Kelly feel about Pomerantz's commission? "I have no reaction," he said at a recent news conference. Asked whether Kelly planned to cooperate with the commission, a police spokesman declined comment.

Security breach? Two people, at least one of whom was a teenager, were stopped outside the department's eighth floor command and control center the night of the blackout because they did not have proper identification.

A statement from Deputy Commission of Information Michael O'Looney after reporters learned of the incident said that the two came "to volunteer their services" and that "their intentions were good."

O'Looney did not say whether the two were arrested or that one of them was carrying a card identifying himself as deputy commissioner for counterterrorism.

The person who informed Newsday of the incident said: "They don't want the press to find out that a 17-year-old with a deputy commissioner's card could get into the building during a period of lock-down. They voided both arrests."

Heard: Howard Safir on WNYC radio on his tenure as commissioner: "I would like to have been somewhat more open about some of the information that we had. I think I would have rather had some better press relations than I had. But on balance, I feel I did a great job."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.