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Kelly and the CCRB: Can’t They Just Get Along?

May 15, 2006

The Civilian Complaint Review Board learned a harsh lesson last week: if you dare to criticize police commissioner Ray Kelly, you do so at your peril.

The feckless CCRB has already been so cowed by Kelly it failed to speak out about his flouting the city charter for 16 months by refusing to cooperate with its investigation into alleged police abuses during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

So what did the CCRB expect when it sent a Kelly letter last week criticizing two deputy chiefs, Terrence Monahan and Stephen Paragallo, for ordering mass convention arrests of protestors?

The letter provoked an angry response not just from Kelly but from the Amen corner at the Post’s editorial page, which headlined it, “An Anti-Cop Outrage.”

“I’m writing to express my surprise and dismay at the letter I received from you and Executive Director [Florence] Finkle yesterday [Tuesday] afternoon after already having received inquiries about it from the New York Times,” Kelly wrote back to CCRB chairman Hector Gonzalez.

“It seems to be a remarkable coincidence that your letter to me appeared in the press on the morning of the board’s public meeting, in scarcely enough time for the ink to dry.”

Kelly’s response, which went on for nearly 1,000 words and which the Post printed in its entirety, ended with a charge that the CCRB had exploited the RNC issue, “seemingly in an attempt to get media attention.”

In between, Kelly stated, the CCRB had ignored “the larger context,” an apparent reference to his assertion that the convention went off largely without incident despite threats to disrupt it; including an unspecified “very real risk of a major terrorist attack.”

It is precisely this -- New Yorkers’ fear of another major terrorist attack and Kelly’s well-publicized strategies to prevent them -- that explains why he has become the most powerful and popular police commissioner in modern history, accountable to no one, with a 70 per cent public approval rating, amidst speculation he may run for mayor to succeed Michael Bloomberg.

Yet despite Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign promise of more transparency in the police department than existed under his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, the department under Kelly is more secretive than ever.

The public has literally no idea what goes on at One Police Plaza. What, for example, is the status of Inspector Robert Wheeler, who shot a robbery suspect in Washington, D.C., then fled and never reported the shooting to D.C. police? Kelly failed to discipline him for three weeks, then placed him on modified assignment, the least severe penalty one can give.

What’s the status of Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy, recently convicted in a New Jersey traffic court in an alcohol-related incident with Palisades Parkway police, who disarmed and handcuffed him, and who is still at his desk at headquarters? Internal Affairs Bureau Chief Charles Campisi had two detectives sit through McCarthy’s trial so no one can plead ignorance.

And what’s up with the detectives in the Imette St. Guillen murder case who have been questioned under oath by IAB investigators about their conversations with reporters? So far as is known, the only result has been a further chill in relations with the media.

Now let’s return to Kelly’s major CCRB gripe: his “dismay,” as he put it, that the board had supposedly leaked its report to the Times before showing it to him.

But according to CCRB spokesman Andrew Case, that is just not so. A draft of the report, he says, had been sent to Kelly for his comments the previous Friday. Case says the CCRB received no response from him.

In addition, Case says the CCRB sent its letter to the department last Tuesday – the day before the Times ran its story. The letter apparently never made it to Kelly’s office.

The CCRB is now so intimidated by Kelly it refuses to say to whom in the department the Tuesday letter was sent.

So is the CCRB on the level? If so, what does that say of Kelly? That the most powerful police commissioner in modern city history is, to put it politely, misinformed?

If history is a guide, perhaps we should examine another recent report of another feckless city agency that Kelly has also slighted, the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, whose chairman, Mark Pomerantz, resigned a year ago, saying Kelly had failed to supply crime statistics the commission had sought.

The commission’s most recent report, out April 4th, evaluated something called the department’s Performance Monitoring Unit, which supposedly tracks officers with behavioral problems and in need of extra supervision.

Here’s what the report says. “The commission provided a draft copy … to the department on Feb.15, 2006. Included with the report was a letter advising the department that the commission intended to release the report in April and that any comments the department wanted included in the report needed to be provided by mid-March. The commissioner [Pomerantz’s successor Michael Armstrong] has not received any response from the department.”

Final point: If city commissioners are so frightened by Kelly that they afraid to speak out about the job to which they have been appointed, then who will?

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt