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Suddenly, PBA Gets Sensitive

December 19, 2003

When Phil Caruso headed the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, he publicly referred to Ben Ward, the department's first black commissioner, as "Bubba."

When cops engaged in a mini-riot at City Hall in the early 1990s, they disparaged the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins, as a "washroom attendant."

Earlier this month, a letter in the Nassau County police union newsletter from 10-year veteran Joe Nocella said of former NYPD Chief James Lawrence, Nassau's first black police commissioner: "Can we please trade this guy back to the city? We should at least be able to get a couple of cases of shoe polish for him."

The letter created a furor, with the Long Island department's black fraternal organization protesting and Lawrence announcing an internal investigation. Both Nocella and union president Gary DelaRaba denied the remarks were racial.

Then, DelaRaba, no shrinking violet, apparently had an epiphany. In a rarity in hardball police union circles, he offered what amounted to an apology. As a union, he wrote in his newsletter, "We cannot have some of our members feel offended or worse yet feel that this PBA is both arrogant and insensitive to their needs.

"As much pain [as] this has caused some people, we better be able to learn from this issue. Maybe we all need to be a little bit more alert on what our words and deeds can do to a fellow officer. This is for everyone to consider, not just white officers, female officers or black officers but any other officer who may be different than ourselves ...

"Let's take a reality trip," he added. "If minority activists never opened their mouths and remained silent we would still be bogged down in the mentality that existed 30, 40 or 50 years ago. If black / associations had not been started, many officers of color would not have been treated fairly, not only in terms of movement on the job but as well as being hired in the first place."

Mr. No Comment.
The NYPD's deputy commissioner for public information, Michael O'Looney, announced his departure from the department with the same words he has spoken to this column for the past nine months - no comment.

O'Looney is the first top civilian to leave the department since ex-Marine Gen. Frank Libuti - who Commissioner Ray Kelly brought to the NYPD as its first deputy commissioner for counterterrorism - returned to Washington after just a year.

In a news release, Kelly described O'Looney as "a consummate professional who did an outstanding job of communicating to the public on behalf of the Police Department during a historical and transformational period in our history." Asked what the "historical and transformational period" meant, O'Looney, as is his custom, remained in his office and issued a "no comment" through an underling.

O'Looney acknowledged he did not set policy but merely implemented it. Recently, he has been telling reporters that releasing anything more than the bare bones of pubic information is considered a department "courtesy."

Earlier this month, the public information unit broke with 10 years of tradition by canceling its annual Christmas party with the media. Stated reason: the party's prohibitive cost. Instead, the cops all went to the Smith and Wollensky steak house for dinner. Cost per head: $100.

O'Looney will be succeeded by Paul Browne, whose innocuous-sounding title of deputy commissioner of administration belies the fact that he is probably closer to Kelly than anyone else at One Police Plaza. Some say that during O'Looney's tenure, Browne ran the public information office.

When Is a Gift a Gift?
Kelly has issued his holiday-season memorandum, warning that the acceptance of gifts, although well-intentioned, may violate the Patrol Guide and create a conflict of interest.

According to the memo, issued yesterday, "Members of the service are instructed to confer with their commanding officer or supervisory head before accepting any gift offered them by any member of the public, including any business or organization."

Kelly has made integrity and questions of propriety a signature issue. Last year, he bailed out of the Finest Foundation's "Chief's Night" at the Hotel Pierre because the group's brochure listed a $50,000 "commissioner's table" benefit package. Kelly said he nixed his appearance because the group left the impression that access to him could be bought. The foundation was forced to cancel the dinner, costing it its $25,000 down payment.

Now what of the two free Yankees tickets Kelly accepted, as reported by the state temporary lobbying commission, one for Opening Day, the second for a 2002 playoff game? O'Looney offered no explanation when asked this week.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.