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Policing the police no more

April 22, 2005

Three days after he testified at a City Council hearing that the commission he headed to monitor police corruption was unable to do the job because the Police Department refused to cooperate, Mark Pomerantz told Newsday he has resigned as its head.

Pomerantz said the job as chairman of the Commission to Combat Police Corruption required a full-time chairman to have a continuing dialogue in the department. He said he informed the Bloomberg administration of his resignation before his testimony, but it has not been made public.

Pomerantz was a longtime federal prosecutor in Manhattan and was part of the government team that convicted ex-cop Francis X. Livoti in 1998 in the death of Anthony Baez of the Bronx.

He was named chairman of the corruption commission by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in August 2003, a year and a half after Bloomberg took office and realized he'd forgotten to appoint anyone to that ineffectual body, which had been formed by Rudolph Giuliani.

Bloomberg stated in 2001 that he would make the Police Department more "transparent" than it was under Giuliani. Specifically, he said he'd make the department's inner workings more visible to the public.

Instead in the nearly four years Bloomberg has been mayor, he has become a stooge to his supposedly enlightened police commissioner, Ray Kelly. Obtaining information about the department these days has become even more impossible than in Giuliani's darkest hours.

Also, individual reporters have been denied access to police officials by Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne in retaliation for critical articles they or colleagues wrote about the department.

This lack of access was apparently what the commission - with its budget of only $500,000, a staff of just four attorneys and no subpoena power - discovered when it sought to investigate overtime abuse and contentions from officers and sergeants that they were ordered to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors so that serious crime would appear to be declining.

After this newspaper reported the alleged crime-statistics doctoring, Browne persuaded the rest of this town's somnambulant media the allegations stemmed from a vengeful Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which sought more cops and higher pay. (No one questioned him about the sergeants' union, which seconded the allegations.)

Pomerantz told the council that the department had decided the overtime abuse and alleged crime-doctoring were "administrative," not "criminal" matters. Therefore, the department refused to provide information to the commission.

"Our entire tenure has been characterized by jurisdictional disputes about what constitutes corruption," a commission official who asked for anonymity said this week. "They do not feel that such issues as falsifying overtime records involving tens of thousands of dollars and lying about it, or falsifying crime statistics and lying about them constitutes corruption

"And when they disagree it can take them months to come back and say 'No.' Then, we set up a meeting a year down the road and nothing happens. It gets you so down you give up."

What's up with Mike? That's Mike Vecchione, star prosecutor of the Brooklyn district attorney's office, whose boss, Joe Hynes, has been accused of all sorts of things, from cronyism to incompetence.

But Vecchione's rumored movie deal involving alleged mob cops Lou Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, if true, appears to take the cake.

The district attorney's Rackets Bureau, which Vecchione heads, helped federal prosecutors make the case, but when the feds appeared to take too much credit, Hynes and company retaliated by going to "60 Minutes." The feds then tossed a Brooklyn assistant district attorney out of their shared office.

Now come rumors of the movie negotiations.

Asked about Vecchione, Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Hynes, said: "He doesn't want to tell me. He considers it a personal matter."

Asked about office policy, Schmetterer said, "It depends on city policy."

City policy? District attorneys are state officials. What about Hynes' policy?

"Hynes would have to approve," he said.

So did he?

"He's on vacation. I don't want to call and ask him."

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.