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Kelly's Katrina-Like Reassessment

December 2, 2005

The fatal shooting of New York City police officer Dillon Stewart has started a media reassessment of the claims and priorities of the police department under commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Just as hurricane Katrina led Americans to publicly question President George W. Bush’s leadership, the Stewart shooting has emboldened the city’s generally pliant media to demand answers from Kelly they seemed afraid to ask before.

Extraordinarily enough, the first shot fired was by none other than the police-loving New York Post. In an editorial headlined “Zero Tolerance,” the Post positioned a dagger near Kelly’s heart by calling Stewart’s shooting “a painful reminder of the pre-Rudy Giuliani days, when gunmen ruled Gotham.”

The editorial writer was apparently too polite to mention the name of police commissioner during some of those days -- Raymond W. Kelly.

The Post then listed the recent shooting deaths of four New Yorkers and continued the next day with a front page picture of yet another victim – this one an eight-year-old boy killed in 2003 in drug-dealer crossfire, together with his mother’s first person lament.

These were not anecdotal tales, the Post assured its readers. Despite the decade-long decline in the city’s murder rate [which also began under Kelly], and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s now laughable claim that New York is the nation’s safest large city, a more realistic guide to the city’s safety may well be its rising number of shootings. In the past year, they have increased over 6 per cent.

The Post was not the first to raise questions about Kelly and the department, merely the loudest. There were hints before Stewart’s shooting that crime wasn’t vanishing as Kelly and Bloomberg made it out to be. The problem was that no one was listening. A recent Village Voice article by Paul Moses cited an increasing number of shooting victims turning up in hospital emergency rooms. Another article by Jarrett Murphy described the beating last September, apparently with a baseball bat, of Sean Eden in Brooklyn. Although he was rushed to the hospital and underwent eye surgery, the police report made no mention of the bat. Instead, Murphy reported, they said Eden had been struck with a closed fist and suffered only lacerations. That way, the department could classify the beating as a misdemeanor, which meant it would not make the FBI’s major crime index.

That brings up another point. Two years ago, the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants’ Benevolent Associations claimed precinct commanders were deliberately downgrading crimes to keep reporting levels low. As PBA president Patrick Lynch put it, officers were “forced to falsify stats in order to maintain the appearance of a drastic reduction in crime.”

Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne – who protects Kelly with religious fervor and who will henceforth be referred to in this column as The Vicar Browne – convinced most of the city’s media that the claims were unfounded and generated by disgruntled union officials. Only Newsday reported the allegations, interviewing crime victims in half a dozen such cases.

When Mark Pomerantz, the head of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption and a former federal prosecutor, asked the department for figures to determine whether it was falsifying crime stats, Kelly refused to provide them. Bloomberg took a powder, leading Pomerantz to resign, with not a peep from the media. The commission has not been heard from since.

This leads to a final point. While running for mayor in 2001, Bloomberg promised more transparency for the police department than existed under Giuliani. Instead under Kelly, the department is more closed than ever.

Bloomberg has even allowed Kelly to break the law. If you don’t believe that, check out the city charter, which says the department must cooperate with Civilian Complaint Review Board investigations. Kelly, however, refuses to allow police officers to testify before the board investigating civilian complaints against the police, stemming from the Republican National Convention.

Still, if the shootings continue across the city at today’s pace, the Post may well be writing the same headline of Kelly that it did of Mayor David Dinkins 15 years before when crime in the city ran rampant: “Ray, Do Something.”

Kelly in Context. [Con’t] The police department’s official unofficial historian, retired sergeant Mike Bosak, has offered an emendation for the department’s unofficial official historian, Tom Reppetto, who in this column last week placed Kelly in the grand tradition of wartime police commissioners.

While Kelly has taken the revolutionary step of stationing detectives overseas to fight terrorism, Reppetto noted that Arthur Woods, who served as commissioner before and during World War I, had taken an equally revolutionary step by establishing formal liaisons with British and French intelligence services, exchanging information on American citizens, suspected of bombings American ships.

Bosak points out that those formal liaisons were all conducted in Manhattan – not overseas. “At the time, the NYPD still didn’t have wireless radio communication,” he says. “They had problems talking to Brooklyn or the Bronx, never mind Europe.”

No Freelancers. Following the Stewart shooting, Commissioner Kelly held a rare briefing with reporters in his 14th-floor office. Alas, Your Humble Servant was denied the privilege of seeing The Great One up close. The bad news was delivered just before the news conference by Sgt. Gerri Falcon, of the department’s Public Information office. “One reporter a paper,” she announced. “And no freelancers.”

Reggie Gets Religion [Con’t]. Highest ranking NYPD official to attend Reggie Ward’s New York Law Enforcement Foundation dinner Monday at the Hyatt honoring NYPD chaplains Rabbi Alvin Kass and Father Robert Romano: a certain deputy commissioner with a date in New Jersey Traffic Court later this month. Perhaps with Reggie’s connections and the prayers of the dinner’s two honorees things may work out.

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Copyright © 2005 Leonard Levitt