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The Press Club Steps Up

June 27, 2011

After a decade playing footsie with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — under whose leadership the NYPD has become the most repressive and least transparent in modern history — the New York Press Club awarded its top prize for a hard-hitting series that exposed how the NYPD’s lack of transparency harms the public.

The Village Voice’s Graham Rayman won the “Gold Keyboard” for “The NYPD Tapes,” which detailed the department’s downgrading of crime statistics and revealed how this practice allowed a rapist to operate under the department’s radar and continue attacking women when he could have been caught long before.

The series was based on secretly recorded tapes by whistle-blower cop Adrian Schoolcraft, which showed that his commanders in the 81st precinct, where he worked, ordered cops to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors to make that Brooklyn neighborhood appear safer.

The series also spotlighted the department’s subsequent mistreatment of Schoolcraft.

A police posse, led by Deputy Chief Michael Marino, went to his apartment in Queens after Schoolcraft, saying he didn’t feel well, left his tour an hour early. Once at his apartment, they dragged him off, against his will, to Jamaica Hospital, where he was held in its psychiatric ward for six days.

Then, vindicating Schoolcraft’s claims, the department disciplined and transferred the 81st precinct’s commander, two sergeants and two police officers. Marino was also transferred after an investigation into his alleged use of steroids.

As suspicions grew that crime-downgrading was systemic through the city’s precincts, Kelly in January formed a three-man commission to investigate with a six-month deadline. The deadline is up.

And neither Kelly nor Mayor Michael Bloomberg has uttered a word about the NYPD’s role in throwing Schoolcraft into the hospital’s psychiatric ward.

The Queens District Attorney is now taking a look. As a first step, Jim Leander, head of the DA’s Public Integrity Bureau, is to meet with Schoolcraft’s attorney, Jon Norinsberg, next month to obtain Schoolcraft’s police department personnel and Jamaica hospital records.

Kelly, meanwhile, has been a regular at Press Club events. He has wined and dined at least one Press Club official at the Harvard Club — courtesy of the Police Foundation, which pays his expenses. Kelly has refused to identify his guests at the club, supposedly out of privacy concerns, but has assured the public that he takes them there only for police business.

As usual, Kelly attended the Press Club’s annual June event, the evening Rayman was given his award. Also present for some reason was Bloomberg, who has totally failed to honor his campaign promise to provide more transparency in the NYPD than during the dark days of Rudy Giuliani.

Both Kelly and Bloomberg left before the Press Club presented its “Gold Keyboard” award to Rayman so they missed Rayman’s acceptance speech in which he took the department to task for hiding information.

Knowing that this column is Kelly’s favorite Monday mornings read [although he won’t admit it] we’ll repeat some of what Rayman had to say.

“Adrian Schoolcraft also deserves a share of this award,” Rayman said. “Without his personal courage, none of this would have reached the public eye. And when we consider his motivation, it’s very important to note that he spent two years trying to go through the NYPD chain of command.

“But he was repeatedly rebuffed and labeled a troublemaker.

 

“Finally, he went to department investigators. Three weeks after a three-hour meeting, in which he documented a dozen examples of downgrading of crimes, a deputy chief, a precinct commander and other supervising police officials ordered him handcuffed, dragged from his apartment and held against his will in Jamaica Hospital psychiatric ward for six days without explanation.

“Even then he did not immediately go public. He tried to get Internal Affairs, the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, county prosecutors and local politicians interested in investigating what happened to him. No one wanted to get involved. Then, and only then, did he decide to reach out the media.”

“Unfortunately,” Rayman continued, “in this case the department has been anything but responsive, ignoring or stonewalling numerous Village Voice inquiries and Freedom of Information requests over the past 13 months.

“To date, and I find this fairly astonishing, the department has not released, and I do not have, a single report, conclusion, document, or even a single scrap of paper about the issues surrounding the Schoolcraft case.”

Rayman then pointed out that the NYPD’s lack of disclosure contrasts with other police departments around the country.

 
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“I was struck by the fact that reporters in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Nashville were each able to obtain thousand of crime records from their respective police departments of the type NYPD has never released,” Rayman said.

He then posed some questions:

bullet“Why do we allow this situation [at the NYPD] to continue? How is the New York City Police Department different from any other taxpayer-funded city police department?

bullet“Why won’t the NYPD release its complaint and arrest database?

bullet“How many cases are closed without a full investigation?

bullet“Why has the NYPD stopped reporting its clearance rate to the FBI? What is that clearance rate?

bullet“Why won’t the NYPD release all of its crime statistics, rather than the limited weekly COMPSTAT charts?

bullet“Why hasn’t the NYPD updated and improved its inefficient and opaque Freedom of Information process?

bullet“Is there any way to make DCPI [the department’s public information office] more efficient and responsive?

bullet“What happened in the Schoolcraft incident? Why won’t the NYPD release the results of the various investigations ordered by Kelly?” [Presumably Rayman means the three-man commission whose report is overdue.]

Finally, Rayman offered this suggestion: that the city’s news organizations pool their resources “and put together a joint project to obtain whatever databases, documents or information we deem most important or that have never before been made available.”

Although Kelly and Bloomberg had left before Rayman’s speech, Kelly’s confidante, the department’s spokesman Paul Browne remained.

Said Rayman after the event: “He said nothing at the ceremony. I looked for him afterwards but I think he was gone.”

While Kelly has spent the past 10 years stonewalling reporters, Browne has become so emboldened that he has taken to misleading reporters — fibbing, telling untruths, lying —readers, you decide what to call it.

The latest occurred after FBI agent Gregory Fowler, who headed the Joint Terrorist Task Force, was recently tapped to run the Bureau office in Portland, Oregon. Browne told reporters — falsely [and of course, off the record] — that Fowler’s transfer was punishment for backing away from the NYPD’s latest terrorism case.

The FBI had declined to join the case against two North African-born local men, accused of plotting to blow up synagogues.

Sources said the Bureau questioned the credibility of the NYPD undercover who developed the case. The sources added that the NYPD had refused to allow the JTTF to interview him.

Instead, the NYPD presented the case to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, but a state grand jury declined to indict the two men on the most serious terrorism charge.

Sources said that Fowler’s wife, a former agent, told her husband in response to Brown’s assertion that Fowler had been transferred as punishment: “If I’d known that’s what it took to get you transferred to Portland, I’d have told you to screw something up two years ago.”

Rayman said that the last time Browne had responded to his questions was in an email six months ago.

“I had a tip that cops in anti-terror training in Brooklyn were shown a film called ‘The Third Jihad,’ financed by a right wing propaganda organization,” Rayman said.

“Browne not only denied that anti-terror training takes place in Brooklyn, he denied the film was ever shown. Both of his statements were, of course, inaccurate.”

Rayman’s colleague, former Village Voice columnist Tom Robbins, wrote a subsequent column about that anti-terror training.

In it, Browne admitted that the police had shown the film.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt