The Power of 30
October 22, 2007
Reporters covering the New York City Police Department lament that its public information office, known as DCPI, takes its sweet time when returning phone calls to provide information. Often, DCPI doesn’t return calls at all.
But when it wants to, DCPI can respond very quickly.
Witness Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne’s shotgun response last week after WPIX [Channel 11] reported the impending arrests of 30 cops in what may be the beginnings of latest NYPD corruption scandal, this one involving steroid use.
Just minutes after WPIX’s report, Browne put out a statement not merely denying the pending arrests. He singled out the hapless WPIX newsman by name for sloppy reporting. Browne, known to readers of this column as “Mr. Truth,” was smoking!
“Without seeking comment or confirmation from D.C.P.I.,” his statement read, “WPIX-TV, Channel 11 reporter Arthur Chi’en this evening broadcast an erroneous report which wildly distorted and exaggerated the facts in an I.A.B. [Internal Affairs Bureau] investigation, in cooperation with state health officials, in which six police officers are being investigated for the possible improper use of prescriptions to obtain anabolic steroids for non-medical, personal use. A pharmacy employee was arrested yesterday in connection with the investigation. While the officers’ conduct being investigated could result in disciplinary action, no arrests of police officers are anticipated.”
The next morning Browne reacted with a similar attack on the New York Post, which had reported that 30 cops had been rounded up to take drug tests. This time, Browne restrained himself from mentioning the names of any reporters.
“The New York Post erroneously reported this morning that as many as 30 police officers had been tested for possible steroid use when, in fact, only three were,” his statement read. “Once more, purported “sources” have provided grossly exaggerated information that wildly distorted the facts of an I.A.B. investigation, in which six police officers are being investigated for the possible improper use of prescriptions to obtain anabolic steroids for non-medical, personal use. Three of those six have been tested; another three are expected to be tested. Results of the tests are pending. A pharmacy employee has been arrested in connection with the investigation. While the officers’ conduct being investigated could result in disciplinary action, no arrests of police officers are anticipated.”
So what’s upsetting Commissioner Browne?
According to the New York Times, Browne was apparently exercised over the media’s use of the number 30. We say “apparently” because the writer didn’t make it clear what Browne actually said.
As the Times put it, “Mr. Browne explained in a subsequent interview today. For police officials, a report that 30 officers would be arrested was shocking. That number of arrests would rank with the corruption uncovered by the Knapp Commission in the 1970s.
"The deputy commissioner said that it was very unusual to correct a story with a press statement, but he was concerned at the time that the report would snowball as it was picked up by other outlets. The release was an attempt — a successful one — to stop the story’s spread.”
Well, if the number 30 is so upsetting to Brown, he doesn’t have to go as far back as the Knapp Commission. In 1994, just 13 years ago, more than 30 cops in Manhattan’s 30th precinct were arrested – and subsequently convicted – of drug-related crimes. That scandal became known as The Dirty Thirty.
The arrests resulted from an investigation by another anti-corruption panel, the Mollen Commission, which was appointed by Mayor Dinkins in 1992. Guess who was First Deputy and subsequently Police Commissioner back then? Why, none other than Browne’s boss, Ray Kelly.
Not that Kelly was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the 30th precinct’s corruption, despite newspaper accounts at the time suggesting otherwise. Kelly, however, did defend the then head of Internal Affairs, Chief Robert Beatty, until it was revealed Beatty kept a secret “tickler” file of corruption cases involving the top brass that the department hid from prosecutors.
Meanwhile, the steroids scandal does not seem quite over. On Friday The Post came back with a color photo splashed across Page 3 of suspected steroid user Deputy Chief Michael Marino, wearing a costume the Post headlined as “Super Sperm.” The paper misidentified him as a deputy inspector, while Marino’s lawyer says the photo is a phony.
For a little subtext, the story’s lead reporter, Larry Celona, has ties to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which has been feuding with Marino for his no-nonsense approach to allegedly lazy-bone cops in the 75th and 77th precincts. Part of that crackdown involved transferring a union delegate, a dangerous undertaking for a commander.
The union is also feuding with Kelly over the double standard he uses to discipline cops and chiefs. Already, Marino supporters are spinning that while six cops are under investigation for steroid use, Marino is in the clear because he had a doctor’s prescription, as though that is somehow a silver bullet.
Meanwhile, his lawyer Phil Karasyk is saying Marino voluntarily came forward to talk to Internal Affairs. He doesn’t say Marino had no choice. If he doesn’t talk, he’s a goner.
According to a posting on the website of The Times, which sponsored the event, the actress Julie Andrews also appeared to plug her autobiography and her children’s book series. But why was Kelly, without a book to plug, there at all since he denies he’s running for mayor — and becomes angered whenever anyone suggests otherwise?
Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt