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The Doddering Times

June 30, 2008

As a lifetime New York Times reader, it’s sad to see the paper failing in its mission to cover the NYPD vigorously.

The latest example of its lame journalism: last week’s editorial, “The Police and Tasers.”

“New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is eager to make the use of firearms a last resort for his officers,” it begins. Hey, big insight here. Is there a police commissioner on the planet who doesn’t want to make the use of firearms a last resort for his officers?

The editorial then tells us that Kelly “and his top lieutenants” are considering arming more police officers with Tasers, based on a recommendation from the Rand Corporation, which Kelly commissioned to study the 50-bullet police shooting of Sean Bell.

First, there are no “top lieutenants” in the NYPD. When it comes to making decisions, there is only the police commissioner.

Second, nowhere does the editorial mention that Tasers are being considered for sergeants, not for cops, and that sergeants already have them, locked safely in the trunks of their cars where they cause no harm.

Third, where is there even a hint of the question the editorial should have asked? What do Tasers have to do with the Bell shooting?

Besides his considerable skills as an administrator, Commissioner Kelly has shown he is a master of public relations. Only now, after six years, is the media down at One Police Plaza catching on.

For the past year or so, the formerly slavish Post has been unearthing all sorts of department scandals. Just this month, it broke news of alleged bid-rigging involving the Mounted Unit and of an investigation into a Queens narcotics unit in which three undercover cops allegedly framed four men in a drug bust.

The News has also been whacking the department pretty hard. First, there was its exposé of Chief John Colgan of the Counter Intelligence Bureau flopping in his Brooklyn office, while claiming he was living in his parents’ place in Brooklyn. His real residence appears to be way upstate.

More recently, the News exposed the hanky-panky of hapless Douglas Zeigler, the department’s highest-ranking black officer. When two young white cops approached him while he sat in his department car, idling at a fire hydrant on a Queens Street, their confrontation became a short-lived cause célèbre, a supposed display of police racism.

Now, according to the News, it turns out the married Zeigler [his wife Nelda is Deputy Commissioner of Equal Employment Opportunity] was out there in Queens to meet his girlfriend.

The Times, meanwhile, continues to serve as Kelly’s mouthpiece. Referring to the Rand Corporation study, which Kelly used to divert attention from the department’s still unexplained tactical failures in the Bell shooting, the Times’ Taser editorial stated: “The [Rand] study, released earlier this month, made several suggestions, including training police to avoid indiscriminate firings. The Taser proposal has attracted the most attention.”

OCCB Bad. The Post yesterday characterized the investigation of three Queens narcotics cops for allegedly framing four men as follows: “The probe is the latest black mark on the Organized Crime Control Bureau, which overseas narcotics, vice, and auto crimes.”

The Post then cited the cases of a Queens detective allegedly pimping teenage girls; two Brooklyn South narcotics detectives accused of keeping drugs seized during an arrest; another Queens detective suspended after shooting at a parked car with a man and woman inside; and a Manhattan South narcotics sergeant suspended for allegedly stealing money from a night club’s cash register.

Omitted from the Post’s black marks: the team of Manhattan undercover officers who were sent to the Club Kalua in November 2006 and ended up fatally shooting the unarmed groom-to-be Bell and wounding his unarmed two friends. The undercover team was also from OCCB.

Here now is a brief history of OCCB under Commissioner Kelly. His first appointment to head the bureau was William Morange, then Chief of Patrol, and known, because of his rapport with black New Yorkers while commander of the 28th Precinct, as “the white prince of Harlem.”

Only Kelly knows why he transferred Morange out of Patrol, where he seemed ideally suited. Perhaps it was so Kelly could appoint Hispanic Chief Nicholas Estavillo to replace him. Perhaps it was because Morange had been a Bernie Kerik appointee.

Whatever reason, soon after his transfer Morange retired.

Kelly then appointed none other than Zeigler to head the bureau. He proved to be predicable road-kill. At news conferences he would stand off the side while Kelly introduced lower-ranking officers at the microphone.

Then Kelly replaced Zeigler with current Chief Anthony Izzo, who was the OCCB commander when the Sean Bell tragedy happened.

Some day Kelly may allow Izzo to explain to the public why his team of Manhattan undercovers, unfamiliar with the neighborhood in Queens, was sent to the Club Kalua on that November night in 2006, with no tactical plan.

Perhaps Kelly may even explain whether rules on undercovers allowing them to drink in clubs have been changed following the Bell shooting.

Perhaps one day, the Times will ask Kelly how his other diversionary Bell ploy — or policy — announcing that officers would be subject to breathalyzer tests if they shoot and hit someone, has any relevance to the Bell shooting since those officers were permitted to drink in their undercover roles.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt