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Ray May Be Away But Trouble Will Stay

February 8, 2010

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, said to be traveling in Israel, picked a good week to be out of town. There was plenty of bad NYPD news while he was gone.

First up: the Daily News’ exposé of Brooklyn’s 81st precinct for allegedly fudging crime statistics — specifically downgrading felonies to misdemeanors and refusing to take the complaints of victims.

Second, the trial of three Brooklyn officers, including Richard Kern, charged with inserting his police baton into the rectum of Michael Mineo, whom cops had chased down for smoking marijuana.

Last week, transit cop Kevin Maloney testified he had seen Kern place press his baton into Mineo’s left buttock and move it from left to right. A half inch to an inch of the baton then disappeared from sight, Maloney said, as it was pressed into Mineo’s “butt crack.”

New York Times profileThird, 32-year-old police officer Miquel Burgos of the Bronx, charged with aiding drug dealers by giving them a police scanner and hydraulic jack. A cop since 2004, he appeared in Manhattan Federal court where he was arraigned on a conspiracy charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.

Fourth, a column by the Times’s Bob Herbert, pointing out that in the first three-quarters of 2009, cops stopped and frisked more than 450,000 people, 84 per cent of whom were black or Hispanic. “It is incredible how few of the stops yielded any law enforcement benefit,” Herbert wrote.

“Contraband, which usually means drugs, was found in only 1.6 percent of the stops of black New Yorkers. For Hispanics, it was just 1.5. For whites, who are stopped far less frequently, contraband was found 2.2 percent of the time.

“The percentages of stops that yielded weapons were even smaller. Weapons were found on just 1.1 percent of the blacks stopped, 1.4 percent of the Hispanics, and 1.7 percent of the whites. Only about 6 percent of stops result in an arrest for any reason.”

Finally, the Times reported Sunday that a survey of more than 100 retired top brass —captains and above — found that “intense pressure to produce annual crime reductions,” as the Times put it, had led them to manipulate crime statistics.

Written by William Rashbaum, its all-service law enforcement fireman, the Times reported that the 100 top brass had been aware over the years of “ethically inappropriate” statistical changes in the seven categories measured by the department and provided to the FBI.

“Others said that precinct commanders or aides they dispatched sometimes went to crime scenes to persuade victims not to file complaints or to urge them to change their accounts that could result in the downgrading of offenses to lesser crimes,” the Times reported.

Now let’s return to the Daily News’s story of fudging crime statistics, which dovetails with the Times report.

Police officer Adrian Schoolcraft, an eight-year veteran, provided the material, including the names of 14 victims. The gist of his allegations was confirmed by Daily News Police Bureau Chief Rocco Parascandola.

One victim said he had been berated by the precinct’s commanding officer for reporting a stolen car.

Another victim reported that he’d been beaten and robbed, only to be told by cops that he was the victim of “lost property” because he was unable to identify the perps.

What the News shied away from was the fact that downgrading of crimes and refusing to take victims’ complaints is hardly confined to a single precinct.

Back in 2005, Parascandola, then working with Your Humble Servant at Newsday, documented remarkably similar findings in numerous precincts.

The problem was said to be so pervasive that Patrick Lynch and Ed Mullins, the heads of the Patrolmen’s and Sergeant’s Benevolent Associations, held a joint news conference to complain that their members had been pressured by higher-ups to reduce felonies to misdemeanors.

Michael Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor whom Mayor Michael Bloomberg had appointed chairman of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, sought to obtain precinct records to determine the accuracy of those claims.

Commissioner Kelly refused to provide them.

Bloomberg refused to support Pomerantz, his own appointee.

Pomerantz had no choice but to resign.

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The top brass survey reported by the Times attributed the department’s faulty crime reporting to its famous COMPSTAT program, initiated by former police commissioner William Bratton in 1994 and modified by successive commissioners, including Kelly.

COMPSTAT came to represent the department’s new-found accountability after years of drift, and many feel the program is the single reason for the city’s record two-decade crime decreases.

But whereas Bratton operated collegially and ran a relatively open department, encouraging his aides to speak to reporters on all sorts of issues, the department today is in lockdown.

Despite Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign promise of more transparency than existed under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, all top department officials today are terrified to speak aloud for fear their phones may be “dumped” — as Kelly ordered in 2006 when he disciplined a Deputy Chief he suspected of talking to a reporter.

In short, nobody knows what is going on inside today’s NYPD.

What has been the police department’s response to all this?

With Kelly out of the country, his spokesman and closest aide, Paul Browne, sought to minimize the allegations in both the top brass survey and the 81st precinct.

Browne told the Times that the survey’s 100 respondents “may be recalling the same lone incident everyone was talking about when they said they knew of instances when crime reports were manipulated.”

John Eterno, a retired police captain and one of the survey’s two authors, called Browne’s comment “ludicrous.”

In the 81st precinct allegations, Browne said that the department’s Quality Assurance Division would investigate Schoolcraft’s allegations. The News added that the Internal Affairs Bureau was also investigating.

An indication of where those investigations may be heading was Browne’s statement to the News: “These complaints are being reviewed as to whether or not this is true and whether this was done as a matter of error or intentionally." A matter of error? Right, Paul.

As for Officer Schoolcraft, who brought the allegations to the News, this is how the department handled him:

Supervisors initially gave him a poor work review. Then they stripped him of his gun and badge and suspended him.

Finally, they took a page from the old Soviet Union handbook dealing with political dissenters. NYPD officials pulled Schoolcraft from his house and, against his will, committed him to Jamaica Hospital’s psychiatric ward.

In so doing, according to Schoolcraft’s father Larry, they searched his apartment and removed folders of his documents and personal notes, presumably about the 81st precinct.

Schoolcraft remained in Jamaica Hospital’s psychiatric ward for six days, his father said. “No one evaluated him. Not a single person from the NYPD came to see him.”

Only when Larry Schoolcraft hired an attorney did they release his son, he said. “They shoved him out the door with no papers. And a bill for $7,185.”

Now the two live upstate, where, says Larry Schoolcraft, NYPD detectives regularly appear at their house. “They’re here every day trying to convince my son to go back on the payroll,” he says.

Such convincing has apparently not been done kindly. According to a notice of claim Schoolcraft has filed against the department, the NYPD has since his release from the hospital “on more than a dozen occasions dispatched teams of detectives and other agents of the NYPD to harass and intimidate claimant by pounding on his door shouting, ‘NYPD. We know you’re in there, open up.’ And honking car horns during all hours of the day and night, including weekends. The NYPD has also solicited the help of the Johnstown, NY police department to serve as its proxy in their ongoing harassment.”

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