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Fighting Terror — and the Homeless

September 22, 2008

Homeless man walks up to a private house in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and asks for a glass of water. Homeowner calls the cops who question the man, then release him.

The story might have ended there except that, as Daily News Police Bureau Chief Alison Gendar reported, the homeowner was Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism Richard Falkenrath.

People who know Falkenrath say he’s a sharp guy with fancy academic credentials who may actually know something about terrorism.

Readers of this column may remember Falkenrath for his $12,000 “Distinguished Dinner Lecture” junket to Singapore on the topic “Protecting the City: Observations and Lessons from New York,” which he delivered four months after joining the NYPD. That’s a sharp guy.

Readers of this column may also remember Falkenrath as the recipient of two top-of-the-line luxury cars — a 2007 Chrysler 300 Touring Car and a 2007 Ford SUV Expedition — that the department leased for him. Each had leather upholstery, a GPS navigational system and the full lights and sirens package, and cost New York City taxpayers $20,000-a-year.

Hey, when you think about it, isn’t that a small price to pay for fighting terrorism?

But let’s not quibble over the perks for NYPD fighters in the war against terrorism.

Point is this: to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Falkenrath is very important. Or rather to Kelly, the image of the NYPD leading the fight against terrorism is very important.

It is so important that the department took extraordinary steps against the homeless man.

According to the News, the department’s Threat Assessment Unit — which investigates threats against public, and very important police, officials — flagged the homeless man’s name. When he was arrested for jumping a subway turnstile in Brooklyn several weeks later, NYPD detectives placed him in a psychiatric ward for five weeks, then escorted him to a relative’s home in Chicago.

According to the News, this astonishing, and perhaps illegal, treatment prompted an anonymous complaint to Internal Affairs.

But don’t expect anything to come of that. The way IAB operates today, they’ll probably investigate the person who dropped the dime.

These days, protecting terrorism-fighting bigwigs is serious business for the NYPD. Such over-the-top behavior is reminiscent of the time nearly four years ago when Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman complained that people were following him.

He approached his friend, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, who dispatched Intel detectives to conduct a private and secret investigation into whether Zuckerman was the victim of — you guessed it — a terrorist plot.

It turned out the people following Mort were retired NYPD detectives working as private investigators who had nothing to do with terrorism.

But there’s some good news for the homeless man. Fortunately for him, he did not visit Commissioner Cohen at his home to ask for a glass of water. If so, the poor man might have ended up on a one-way plane ride to a secret overseas CIA prison.

More Dirty Little Secrets [Con’t].
Following up on last week’s focus on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics, here are some more depressing crime statistics broken down by race.

In the first six months of 2008, 65 per cent of homicide victims in the city were black, and 65 per cent of those arrested for murder in the city were black, according to the Daily News.

Twenty-three per cent were Hispanic and 27 per cent of those arrested for murder were Hispanic.

Contrast this with whites, who comprised 7.4 per cent of murder victims and 7.3 per cent of murder arrests.

Twenty-five years ago, Police Commissioner Ben Ward referred to black-on- black crime as “our dirty little secret.” Adding the Hispanic component, he could have amended his phrase to say non-white-on-non-white crime.

Little appears to have changed since then.

The News also reported the results of tenant surveys at two city housing projects in Brooklyn and the Bronx where a large number of residents report that police officers have arrested or stopped and quizzed them, even though they live there.

According to the News, of 106 people surveyed at the Thomas Jefferson project in the Bronx, 30 per cent said they had been charged with trespassing and 70 per cent said the police had repeatedly stopped them, demanding identification.

At the Walt Whitman project in Brooklyn, more than half the people queried said police had stopped them at least once in the last year.

The News quoted Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, saying the police had targeted the Jefferson Houses for additional patrols because of a 19 per cent spike in crime there this year.

So are the extra patrols needed to keep crime down, or are they obtrusive and racially discriminatory?

Where Is Joe?
“Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato Jr. is to go to trial next month in the death of an off-duty New York City police officer.

Authorities say he and Steven Armento broke into an apartment to look for prescription drugs in 2005. Officer Daniel Enchautegui confronted them and was killed in a shootout.

Big question is whether Brancato’s lawyer Joe Tacopina — who is the former lawyer and former friend of former Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik — will be representing him.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt