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Why So Few Black Officers?

October 22, 2004

The Police Department celebrated its Hispanic Heritage Week with Chief of Personnel Rafael Pineiro, one of the department's two highest ranking Hispanic officials, noting that the number of Hispanic cops has increased from 350 thirty years ago to 8,000 today, making Hispanic officers 22 percent of the department.

While that number has risen dramatically, no one in the department can explain why the number of blacks has remained static.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly refused to provide current figures for black officers. (Two years ago, they comprised 14.3 percent of the force.) Nor was this reporter permitted to interview the department's highest ranking black official, Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs Joyce Stephen.

The provocative Lt. Eric Adams, who heads a group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, maintains the department remains discriminatory and that Kelly "has no confidence in black officers in leadership positions."

But this raises the question why can't the department attract more black officers, period.

Former Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, now chief in Miami, points out that for the past 20 years, the NYPD has spent millions of dollars seeking black recruits. "You can't say the department hasn't made the effort," Timoney says.

"A very proud Ben Ward didn't want blacks?" says Timoney, referring to the city's first black police commissioner. Ward, who served from 1984 to 1990, was succeeded by another black commissioner, Lee Brown. "During their 81/2-year tenure,"says Timoney, "enrollment increased only 2 percent."

Nor did it increase much more under Kelly, who succeeded Brown in his first run under Mayor David Dinkins and who himself traveled to black churches on Sundays seeking recruits.

"Maybe all the years some leaders in the black community bashed the department kept the numbers down," Timoney says. "You can point out the department's faults, but you also have to point out to young black men that this is a viable career and that there is need for black men in the department.

"Compared to when I first came on in the 1960s, the department is an entirely different organization, and this needs to be recognized. You don't hear the n-word anymore. And what helps make [white] cops behave themselves is knowing they are riding next to a black partner or that they will be with black cops at roll call. The department's diversity serves as a self-policing mechanism."

Accident or crime? Law enforcement officials have expressed skepticism about the story by retired cop John Malik, who says his gun discharged after his pager went off and he reached for the pager, fatally shooting store clerk Manuel Chamelta Jr.

While some cops at the scene thought Malik should have been arrested, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown wants more investigation. First step: a dump on Malik's pager to determine whether a call came in at the time he claims. Second, ballistics tests to determine whether the trajectory of the bullet is consistent with his story.

Malik, by the way, was the driver for then-Chief of Department Robert Johnston Jr.

Investigation continues. Staten Island Internal Affairs investigators are looking into the case of Aaron Wong, 21, who was arrested after his jaw was broken by James Mangone, a retired cop. Wong's girlfriend, Brooke Lopez, called 911, saying, "My boyfriend, who is black, is being attacked by a white guy."

She and Wong say Mangone attacked Wong after Wong accidentally pulled his car into a housing complex Mangone owns. They say Mangone was joined by two white men in civilian clothes, one of whom had a gun.

Questions the investigators might ask: Why was Wong, not Mangone, arrested? Why was Lopez never questioned by cops on the scene? Why did the arresting cop allow one of the civilians to handcuff Wong? Why was Wong wasn't taken to the hospital?

Broken windows. One of the two revolving doors to Police Plaza was working last week after being out of service for what seems like the past year. Now only one revolving door remains out of service.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.