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The NYPD’s Absent Black Brass

December 11, 2006

Ray Kelly made his reputation in the NYPD in the 1980s under Benjamin Ward, the city’s first black police commissioner, whom Kelly has referred to as his “mentor.”

As police commissioner under David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, Kelly appeared each Sunday at black churches to recruit black officers.

Now in his second term as police commissioner under Michael Bloomberg:

bulletThere are no blacks in Kelly’s inner circle.

bullet There are but four black chiefs in a department of 38,000 officers – an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of whom are black. None of the four chiefs have key leadership positions.

bullet Of them, only one, Deputy Chief James Secreto, came up through the ranks of the NYPD. The three others — Douglas Zeigler, Gerald Nelson, and Elton Mohammed — all came from the Housing Police after it merged with the NYPD under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a decade ago.

bullet Nelson, the department’s only two-star black chief, heads the School Safety Division, which in the NYPD has become a black-track job.

bulletZeigler, the department’s highest ranking black officer and three-star chief, heads the Bureau of Community Affairs, a position traditionally held by a either a black or Hispanic civilian.

bullet There is not one black borough commander, nor in the six years of his second term has Kelly appointed one.

bullet There is no black officer in the top command structure of either the Detective or the Organized Crime Control Bureau [OCCB], which together comprise 5,000 officers. It was OCCB that conducted the recent undercover raid at the Kalua Club in Jamaica, Queens, when officers fired 50 shots, killing Sean Bell, a 23-year-old black man, and seriously wounding two of Bell’s friends.

State Senator Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and head of the group “One Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care,” was quoted in 2004 in this column, then written for Newsday, as saying Kelly “has no confidence in black officers in leadership positions.”

A high-ranking police official says of Kelly and his relations with black officers, “He is an excellent decorator — very good at window dressing.”

Kelly has also used those few ranking black officers in ways best be described as disingenuous, at worst, cynical.

Take Zeigler — without question Kelly’s most “decorated” black officer.

In 2003, Kelly appointed him to head of OCCB. Earlier this year, however, after he squabbled with his subordinate, the white, two-star narcotics chief Anthony Izzo, Kelly sided with Izzo and flopped Zeigler to Community Affairs.

The department’s press release at the time, however, implied that Zeigler’s transfer from a top command to a lesser office was a promotion.

The headline of the Jan. 26 release from Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne reads:


The release actually described Zeigler’s move to Community Affairs as part of the NYPD’s fight against terrorism. Quoting Kelly, it stated: “As the police department continues its dual mission of combating conventional crime and terrorism, the importance of community affairs in solidifying public support and cooperation with both missions has never been more important. No one is better qualified nor better experienced to tackle the task at hand than Doug Zeigler.”

As for Community Affairs’ expanded role, Kelly changed the reporting line of the School Safety Division, which had operated under the Chief of Patrol, to Community Affairs.

“What this meant,” says a ranking black officer, “is that Kelly further pigeon-holed or ‘ghettoized’ the department’s few top black officers. It meant that Nelson, the department’s second-highest black chief, would report to Zeigler, the highest.”

In heading Community Affairs, Zeigler succeeded Joyce Stephen, the department’s first female African-American chief, whom Kelly had placed in that position the year before with great fanfare.

Three days after announcing Zeigler’s appointment, however, Browne told the Times that, as its police bureau chief Al Baker wrote, “Kelly had become dissatisfied with how the Community Affairs Bureau was being run under its former leader, Joyce A. Stephen, and decided to replace her with Chief Douglas Zeigler.... ”

A final note: Although Zeigler is the department’s highest ranking black officer, department sources say he was not part of the department’s initial shooting review team following the Bell shooting — which included virtually all of Kelly’s executive command.

Shared Responsibility
. “There were times during the trial when I frankly felt there could be other people sitting at the table with Mr. Conroy. I think there is shared responsibility here in my view from the testimony at trial.”

These were the words of State Supreme Court Justice Robert Straus from the sentencing minutes of December 9, 2005, in the trial of police officer Bryan Conroy. Conroy was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the fatal shooting of Ousmane Zongo, an unarmed African immigrant in 2003 during an undercover raid of a Chelsea warehouse.

The “shared responsibility” Straus referred to included that of Conroy’s sergeant, lieutenant and captain, all of whom made wrong tactical decisions in the raid. These decisions included: a lack of familiarity with the warehouse; not using a single common police radio channel; not waiting for the Emergency Service Unit to lead the raid, as had been planned; and not providing Conroy with NYPD identification inside the.warehouse.

Most importantly when Conroy called for assistance, no one came to his aid because his superiors were unaware that access to where he was stationed could not be attained by the warehouse stairway, only by elevator.

This left Conroy alone on the warehouse’s third floor, dressed in a mailman’s uniform that he had worn to gain entry, where he confronted Zongo. The two apparently mistook each other for robbers, resulting in Zongo’s death.

Only Conroy — none of his superiors — was charged criminally in the shooting.

It has been a year now this weekend since his sentencing and Judge Straus’ remarks.

Since then, Commissioner Kelly has announced no internal investigation into the shooting so that future mistakes can be avoided. He has said nothing either about additional training or disciplinary action against his three superiors for their poor planning and lack of supervision.

Yet there has been no public outcry.

Nor has the media or anyone else outside the NYPD sought answers.

In short, this is what occurs when a mayor — who despite promising more “transparency” in the department than existed under his predecessor Rudy Giuliani — gives his police commissioner unprecedented power, then sabotages his own outside monitoring commission; when the media is afraid that access, limited as it is, will be further curtailed; and when professional “activists” — who protested loudly when Zongo was killed — have moved on to other so-called causes.

The result: another undercover operation a year later, resulting in another fatal police shooting of another unarmed black man, leaving other police officer grunts like Conroy exposed.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt