CCRB: Dead Board Walking
September 18, 2006
Two obscure resignations in two obscure city agencies point up the sorry state of attempting to monitor the police department under the supposedly benign leadership of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The first resignation was that of Hector Gonzalez, chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which was established in 1993 in its current form to limit police abuse. Not that Gonzalez did much in this regard. His most notable failing was refusing to speak out for most of the 18 months that Kelly flouted the law and the city charter by refusing to allow CCRB investigators to question the department’s top brass over the apparently unlawful arrests of many of the 1,700 people at the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Two agendas collided here. The first was that of the City Charter. Section 440 of Chapter 18A, states "The police commissioner shall ensure that officers and employees of the Police Department appear before or respond to inquiries of the Board and its civilian investigators in connection with the investigation of complaints ...."
The second was Kelly’s. Despite Mayor Mike’s campaign promise in 2001 to make the police more “transparent” than it was under his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, the police department now is more secretive than ever. And Kelly did not want – does not want – the public to learn how he handled protestors at the RNC, a showcase event for him and the city.
Guess whose agenda prevailed?
By the time, in December 2005, that the New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Chris Dunn did speak out, stating publicly for the first time that Kelly was breaking the law by not allowing top brass to be interviewed by CCRB investigators, it was too late.
People in the so-called civil rights community may not like to hear this but the fact is the system is broken. Finished. Kaput. The CCRB no longer works. Kelly broke it and Mayor Mike – who has given Kelly a blank check to run the police department for the past four and a half years – added the coup de grâce by saying and doing nothing. Alas, the appointment of Gonzalez’s successor, Franklin Stone, can do nothing to fix it.
The second resignation is that of someone named Julie Block. Block was formerly the executive director of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption. That agency is so useless that when Bloomberg became mayor, he didn’t appoint a chairman for over a year. This was probably not his fault. The agency is so hopeless, with no subpoena power, that Bloomberg probably didn’t realize it even existed.
The first chairman Bloomberg did appoint was legit. He was ex-federal prosecutor Mark Pomerantz, who helped convict the notorious Frank Livoti in the death of Anthony Baez, who collapsed and died after Livoti placed him in a choke-hold following a dispute that began with a touch football game.
But Pomerantz’s agenda also collided with Kelly’s. When Pomerantz sought department records following allegations by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that commanders were downgrading crimes from felonies to misdemeanors to create misleading crime statistics, Kelly refused to release the records, saying it was none of the commission’s business. When Mayor Mike again said and did nothing, Pomerantz quit.
Block’s resignation leaves the commission with just one full-time staff person. She’s moving to a top-level job at the city’s Department of Investigation, an agency that, relatively speaking in this administration, is a powerhouse. Under its chairman Rose Gill Hearn, DOI aggressively pursued Kelly’s predecessor, Bernie Kerik, all the way to the Bronx on corruption charges.
Pomerantz’s successor, Michael Armstrong, meanwhile, was quoted recently as saying there is no need of a commission to combat police corruption because the police department has a hands-on commissioner, Ray Kelly, as though that makes everything okey-dokey. And to think, a lifetime ago, Armstrong was the counsel to the Knapp Corruption Commission, which discovered “pads” or payoffs at every level of the department, including inside the commissioner’s office.
Currently, civil rights lawyers challenging the police department’s treatment of the 1,700 arrestees during the RNC, are attempting to depose Kelly, claiming that he, and he alone in the department, set the policies that led to their mass arrests and detention, in some cases, for more than two days.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the city is opposing this, claiming there is no need for Kelly to testify.
Bernie Still Rules. His guilty pleas to corruption charges notwithstanding, Bernie Kerik appeared last week not only at Ground Zero for the fifth anniversary remembrance of 9/11 but also at Rudy Giuliani’s annual 9/11 dinner, which he has hosted each year since 2001 for his 100 closest city hall and first responder friends.
Correction. In an article two weeks ago about Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy, recently named Newark’s new police chief, this column misidentified John Comparetto. Comparetto is the chief of the Passaic County Sheriff’s department.
Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt