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In a Lather Over Grammar

July 14, 2008

Not only does Police Commissioner Ray Kelly fight terrorists.

He also fights street crime, the FBI, Port Authority, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton’s legacy.

Now we learn he’s thrown down the gauntlet and taken a stand against the curse of every seventh grader: the poorly written sentence.

Who knew that our champion could take time out against Al Qaeda to bother about bad grammar and incomplete clauses?

If he’s so annoyed with lapses like these, just think what he’ll do to clichés and mixed metaphors?

The world of composition may never be the same.

Kelly’s inner English teacher surfaced in his June 2nd letter to Franklin Stone, Chairwoman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, about that agency’s 2007 annual report.

Of course, it’s mere coincidence that Kelly felt compelled to attack the report – harping on its grammar – because it criticized the NYPD [– i.e., him --] for failing to discipline officers who the board found were subjects of legitimate complaints, many involving the department’s controversial Stop-and-Frisks.

Responding to the CCRB report, Kelly cited “an overly fractious tone,” “gratuitous comments,” and – oh, my goodness, boys and girls -- nine grammatical errors.

Although the letter bears Kelly’s signature, it has schoolmarm cadence of Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, a former reporter for that beacon of snappy writing, the Daily News.

Here’s a sample from the June 2 letter of what we’re talking about:

“p 2, col 1, paragraph 4, 2nd sentence – should read ‘and substantiated complaints’ not ‘an.’”

p. 14, top box, paragraph 1 – arrive ‘for’ not ‘to’; phone ‘calls’ not ‘call’.”

“p. 18, box – first line needs ‘a’ deleted; last line needs a final period.”

”p. 21, col 1, paragraph 1, 4 lines from bottom – whether ‘he’ or she, not ‘her’ or she.”

p. 24, …paragraph 4, should read ‘Deputy Commissioner for Trials uses” not ‘Deputy Commissioner’s for Trials use.’”

Kelly’s tone throughout the letter reflects his disdain for the CCRB, which is charged with investigating low-level police conduct.

Although the city charter mandates the NYPD to cooperate with the CCRB, Kelly cooperates only when he chooses.

 

When he doesn’t – for example, when the CCRB investigated alleged police abuse during the Republican National Convention and Kelly forbade his officers from speaking to the board’s investigators for 14 months -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg does and says nothing.

In the past, the CCRB has been reluctant to publicly criticize Kelly for his non-compliance of the city charter. When asked about Kelly’s lack of cooperation at a CCRB meeting in Sept., 2005, Stone’s predecessor, Hector Gonzalez, refused to answer.

“It should be patently obvious,” board member William Kuntz spoke up at the time. “If the police department were cooperating, wouldn’t we tell you that?”

Current CCRB Chairwoman Stone seems bolder. In her letter of June 16, she threw a jab or two herself.

“Regarding the chart on page 26, we find your objection to the use of the word ‘success’ to describe a guilty finding curious,” wrote Stone, a former prosecutor, to Kelly, a non-practicing lawyer. “In our adversarial judicial system, even thought the goal is a fair and just determination, prosecutors generally consider themselves advocates and verdict in their favor a ‘success.’”

No Logic? Speaking of Stop and Frisks, Kelly is also fighting a court order to release information showing the race of those people whom the police have stopped on the street and questioned.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is seeking that information from a database of about 850,000 such police stops since 2006 when the database was established.

On May 29, Acting Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Marilyn Diamond ruled that the Civil Liberties Union has the right to see the police records detailing the race of each person stopped, where it occurred and why.

The NYPD appealed, arguing it does not have to release the data and citing “law enforcement privilege.”

But it has already released similar information both to the Rand Corporation and to the University of Michigan.

Asked about the logic of their appeal, Civil Liberties Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn said: “Their appeal isn’t about logic.”

Quote of the Week. From retired NYPD officer Joe Pentangelo of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, responding to a suggestion that pit bulls be banned in New York City after an attack on a 90-year Staten Island man:

“It’s profiling and it’s a prejudice.”

Not for nothing did Pentangelo do time in the NYPD’s Public Information Office.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt