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Demoted Officer Casualty of War?

January 23, 2004

Is the demotion of a deputy inspector the latest cold-war act of hostility between Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his predecessor Bernard Kerik and by extension, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani?

Kelly took the unusual step last month of overruling a departmental trial judge to demote Benjamin Petrofsky to captain for improperly giving pistol licenses to members of the rock group Aerosmith.

Petrofsky's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, attributed the demotion to Kelly's dislike of Kerik, who named Petrofsky to head the pistol-licensing division.

"This is all about Kerik," Tacopina said.

Kerik, a friend of Tacopina, did not disagree.

"If that's true, it's unfortunate," he said, adding that he had appointed Petrofsky on the recommendation of George Grasso, now Kelly's first deputy commissioner.

A police spokesman said Kelly had no comment.

While neither Kelly nor Kerik has ever publicly discussed each other's failings, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Kelly put himself through law school while a cop and served as first deputy before becoming commissioner in 1992.

Giuliani dismissed him when he became mayor in 1994, then took credit for some of his successes, like ending the city's squeegeemen plague.

Kelly then led a United Nations military mission to Haiti and became undersecretary of the treasury and head of the Customs Bureau under President Bill Clinton. He is the only man to ever serve as NYPD commissioner twice.

But he has never forgiven Giuliani for dismissing him and diminishing his accomplishments.

Kerik was a third-grade detective lacking a college degree when he was named commissioner in 2000.

As commissioner he began a program to steer school safety officers, many of them black and Hispanic, into the department. He also dismissed Deputy Commissioner Joe Wuensch.

As commissioner the second time, Kelly dismantled the school safety officers' program. He also hired Wuensch as his chief of staff.

As for Petrofsky, his impropriety consisted of driving to an Aerosmith concert in New Jersey and fingerprinting lead singer Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry backstage.

On Oct. 6, Assistant Trial Commissioner Michael Sarner found Petrofsky, who has a clean record, guilty of failing to conduct a background investigation of the two; conducting department business outside the city, and using his own car for department business without authorization.

Noting that Petrofsky's conduct did not appear motivated by personal greed or "a willingness to blatantly disregard department rules," Sarner ruled that the 18-year veteran should forfeit 30 vacation days.

Sarner also cited testimony that police officials regularly make special arrangements for celebrities, including Robert DeNiro, Howard Stern, Harvey Keitel and Bruce Willis, in obtaining pistol permits, often processing them outside One Police Plaza.

Trial testimony also cited a 1997 incident under Kerik's predecessor, Howard Safir, in which the department issued permits for hundreds of Israeli diplomats, whose names were faxed by the consulate and who did not go through the normal application process. One of the Israelis was later arrested for carrying a gun into the White House and it was discovered he was not a diplomat.

On Dec. 31, Kelly wrote that while he approved of Sarner's findings on Petrofsky, he disapproved of Sarner's recommended penalty. In addition to demoting him to captain, Kelly placed Petrofsky on dismissal probation for a year, during which time he can be terminated without a hearing.

The Barron Speaks. Here are noteworthy selections from the statements of New York's newest mayoral candidate, Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), on the NYPD and its commissioner:

On the death of Alberta Spruill, the Harlem grandmother who was scared to death when police set off a flash grenade in her apartment in a wrong-door raid: "I don't appreciate that when Kelly was asked at a City Council hearing under what circumstances the police would not set off a flash grenade he said that if children or pets were around. But it's OK to do this to a black woman?"

On police crimes and tragedies: "I don't appreciate that the Police Department doesn't see wrongful death shootings as crimes but as 'tragic mistakes' - like that of Amadou Diallo. You can't keep crying police misconduct is always 'a tragic mistake.' Those tragic mistakes don't happen in white communities."

On black leaders and the police: "Black leaders are afraid to criticize Kelly because they don't want to be considered anti-police. It was sickening to hear my colleagues at the City Council hearing sucking up to the PC. I wanted to puke."

On Kelly: "If I'm elected mayor, he's history."

Barron has been endorsed by the Rev. Al Sharpton. In 1997, when Sharpton ran for mayor, he told One Police Plaza Confidential that one white person he would consider for police commissioner was Ray Kelly.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.