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IAB: Has It Lost Its Way?

August 11, 2008

Veteran Newsday police reporter Rocco Parascandola was startled six months ago when an IAB sergeant he didn’t know telephoned him and politely asked for the names of his sources on a story.

The sergeant asked who had told Parascandola about a drunken female officer involved in an off-duty traffic accident with her sergeant boyfriend, who tried to cover up the incident.

Sounding uncomfortable asking a question he knew Parascandola would not answer, the IAB sergeant explained he was just following orders.

It’s a basic code of journalism to protect sources and Parascandola made that clear.

“I told him there was no way I would reveal who I had spoken to,” he said.

Then, two weeks ago, two more strangers from IAB, a sergeant and another officer Rocco assumed was a detective, arrived at Parascandola’s second-floor office at Police Plaza with a similar request.

This sergeant, also polite, wanted the sources for another Parascandola story — this one about two rookies accused of issuing phony summonses.

Like the first IAD sergeant, this one seemed uneasy about his mission. Again, Parascandola protected his sources, telling the sergeant nothing.

O.K., so what is going on here? What could the bosses of those two sergeants at IAB — and IAB’s Chief Chalres Campisi — have been thinking?

Isn’t the job of Internal Affairs to pursue cases like the apparently increasing number of cops involved in drug-related crimes?

Instead, judging from IAB’s questions to Parascandola, Campisi appears to be following the lead of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and acting as though the corrupt cops are those who speak to reporters.

What could possibly have made Campisi believe that any legitimate police reporter, especially a veteran like Parascandola, would breach the most sacred trust in journalism by revealing a confidential source?

Reporters and police officials are natural antagonists. Yet, for as long as Your Humble Servant can remember, there has been a mutual respect between the NYPD and police reporters about boundaries.

As angry as police officials can become about stories that uncover scandal or incidents they want hidden, there has been a recognition at the highest levels of the department that the media serves a societal purpose.

Without the New York Times — whose police bureau chief, David Burnham, nearly four decades ago debriefed Frank Serpico — there would have been no Knapp Commission to expose the department’s organized and systemic corruption exposed by Serpico.

As former deputy commissioner and federal judge Kenneth Conboy once put it, the media’s function “is to shine the light in all the dark crevices of the criminal justice system.”

All this changed with the election of Rudolph Giuliani as mayor. Giuliani thought the media existed to serve him. One of his police commissioners, Howard Safir, showed such contempt for the press that, at the Police Foundation’s annual dinner at Police Plaza, he introduced two Times police reporters as “slime.”

Ray Kelly harbors a similar disdain for the press, although he is smart enough to disguise it. Despite showing up at the New York press club award ceremonies, despite charming naïve newspaper editors, he, too, believes the media is there to serve him.

Not content with micro-managing the police department, he also wants to micro-manage how the media reports about it.

We have described in this space his drive out to Newsday, taking an afternoon off from fighting crime and terrorism, to complain about Your Humble Servant.

A couple of years back, following the murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen, whose body was found bound and raped off the Belt Parkway after she left a SoHo bar, Kelly began a witch hunt over coverage of the incident.

Kelly was so exercised that details of the crime appeared in print that he went after his detective bureau, ordering Internal Affairs to dump detectives’ private cell phones to determine whether they had spoken to specific reporters at the Post and the News.

Now let’s turn to Campisi, who has headed IAB for the past decade.

He seems so anxious to please Kelly that he has lost all sense of reason and proportion.

Recall last month’s incident involving off-duty detective Ivan Davison to see where Charlie’s priorities lie.

Davison, who’d been out with friends on a weekend night, stopped to break up a fight outside a Queens nightclub at 2 a.m. Sunday, July 13th. A thug, with a rap sheet, shot at him, luckily missing. Davison shot back, wounding him.

Davison, who has high blood pressure, then went to the hospital, where, owing to a rule Kelly instituted after the Sean Bell tragedy, the detective underwent a mandatory sobriety test. Davison tested a tad above the legal limit.

According to the Post, Campisi — who personally went to the hospital — then ordered Davison to disobey his doctors and leave the hospital so he could take a more sophisticated sobriety test at a police facility.

When Davison and his union representatives objected, Campisi suspended him without pay and stripped him of his gun and badge, charging him with being unfit for duty.

After Mayor Mike got into the act and stated that it appeared Davison had “acted correctly,” Kelly reversed Campisi and pronounced Davison a hero.

Poor Charlie. He seems caught in the middle, afraid to resist a boss who has no qualms about using IAB to intimidate reporters doing their jobs and hero detectives doing theirs.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt