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Dead Board Awakening?

April 2, 2012

The Civilian Complaint Review Board [CCRB] has never amounted to much.

Its work involves the most minor police misconduct.

At best, its value is symbolic — a check, albeit limited, on police power.

Last week’s agreement between the Mayor, Police Commissioner, and City Council Speaker that revamps and supposedly strengthens the CCRB seems like a political two-step.

It provides Speaker Christine Quinn, as she prepares to launch her mayoral campaign, with a speck of political breathing room from an increasingly beleaguered and criticized Ray Kelly and NYPD.

Quinn has so far been running a Bloomberg-friendly campaign. This includes her plea that Ray Kelly remain as police commissioner.

It remains to be seen whether this is Quinn’s version of Bloomberg’s public invitation to Bernie Kerik to stay as police commissioner in the wake of 9/11 when he had no intention of keeping him.

The agreement also provides Kelly with an artful dodge.

Contrary to the New York Times headline: “New Powers to Prosecute New York City Police Officers,” the CCRB has gained no new powers. Police department judges will remain the judges of accused cops. Kelly will remain the final arbitrator, accepting or rejecting the judges’ recommendations.

The miniscule difference is that, if Kelly overrules a trial judge, he must explain his reasons in writing.

Here, though, is where symbolism kicks in.

While putting his reasons in writing may seem like chump change to the city’s most powerful police commissioner in city history, it creates the perception that Kelly no longer has the power to act unilaterally.

To understand the significance of this change, recall when Kelly was at the height of his power in 2004.

With the city still traumatized by 9/11, and with his aggressive, terror-fighting manner, no one dared question or criticize him.

Even Mayor Mike seemed afraid of him.

Bloomberg permitted Kelly to flout the law and the City Charter regarding the CCRB, in particular, Section 440 of Chapter 18A which states: “The police commissioner shall ensure that officers and employees of the Police Department appear before or respond to inquiries of the Board and its civilian investigators in connection with the investigation of complaints…”

And there were plenty of complaints.

Most stemmed from the 2004 Republic National Convention when the police arrested 1,800 protestors, virtually all of them on misdemeanor charges, and held many of them in chicken-wire-like pens for three days on Pier 57 on the west side of Manhattan. The District Attorney dismissed over 90 per cent of all cases.

The RNC was a showcase event for Kelly and the city, and he wanted no protests. Indeed, on the eve of the convention, the NYPD arrested a Pakistani immigrant for allegedly planning to bomb the Herald Square subway station at Madison Square Garden, the site of the RNC.

Kelly then blocked CCRB investigators from questioning the department’s top brass about those 1,800 arrests, thus violating the City Charter. Mayor Mike stood by and said nothing.

Cowed by Kelly, then CCRB chairman Hector Gonzalez refused to speak out about Kelly’s lack of cooperation, even after Gonzalez resigned 18 months later.

Not for nothing did this column’s Sep. 18, 2006, headline read: “Dead Board Walking.”

Six years later, times have changed.

We’ve come a ways from NYU professor Mitchell Moss’s nonsensical characterization of Kelly as “our secretary of defense, head of the CIA and … chief architect rolled into one,” and likening him to Jack Bauer, the Fox TV crime-fighter who broke laws in the name of national security.

Notwithstanding the editorial boards of the New York Post and the Daily News, these days Kelly is being criticized by a wide spectrum of New Yorkers.

The reasons are many.

There’s the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk; the widespread spying on Muslims without probable cause of a crime; the locking up of whistleblower cop Adrian Schoolcraft in Jamaica Hospital’s psychiatric ward [plus the disciplining of two other whistleblower cops making the same claims as Schoolcraft]; and the lingering effects of the Sean Bell shooting.

Minor as it may seem, making Kelly express in writing the reasons he deviates from a trial judge’s decision represents one of the few times in his 10 years as police commissioner that Kelly will have been held to public account.

 
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THE FOUR-CORNER STALL. It’s been 15 months since Kelly promised a report from his three-man commission investigating the department’s alleged downgrading of crime statistics throughout the city.

Kelly announced the commission in January 2011, after Schoolcraft charged that commanders in the 81st precinct in Brooklyn were systemically manipulating statistics, making crime appear less than it actually was.

Others, like criminologists John Eterno and Eli Silverman, have alleged that such cooking the books was city-wide.

So far, one of the commission’s three members has died. The other two are believed to be alive.

On the other hand, Kelly has only another year and half in office to run out the clock.


THE REV’S RETURN?
Following the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida and subsequent demonstrations there led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, local pols are ramping up plans for demonstrations in New York.

Former NYPD captain and now state senator Eric Adams led a “hoodie” event inside the Senate chamber, tying Martin’s shooting to the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policies that target black teenagers, like 17-year-old Trayvon.

Others are calling for protest tying Martin’s death to the fatal police shooting in his Bronx apartment of an unarmed, 18-year-old black teenager, Ramarley Graham,

Back in February, the Rev spoke at Graham’s funeral. He called for a federal investigation and warned that the city’s future would be determined by how authorities handle the case.

Since then, the Bronx District Attorney has convened a grand jury. Kelly has placed the cop who shot Graham on restricted duty and called for a review of street-level narcotics procedures.

So will The Rev, now the nation’s unofficial leader of racially-charged demonstrations, return from Florida to lead them in New York?

No one does it better.

Under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his hapless police commissioner, Howard Safir, The Rev roared like a lion. After the unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, was fatally shot by police, The Rev led month-long demonstrations outside Police Plaza, prompting the theatrical arrests of what appeared to be half the city’s African-American politicians.

But under Bloomberg and Kelly, the Rev has sounded more like a pussycat.

After this column reported that the NYPD had spied on his National Action Network, Sharpton had his civil rights surrogates publicly do his complaining while he remained silent.

He pointed out to this reporter that he didn’t need to respond personally to Kelly and Bloomberg about the spying because he was now a national figure who speaks to the president.


THE BIG MEET.
Last Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller met with Ray Kelly at Police Plaza. Mueller brought Janice Fedarcyk, head of the FBI’s New York office. The meeting followed public criticism by the head of the FBI’s Newark office that the NYPD’s blanket spying on Newark’s Muslims was counter-productive.

While NYPD Confidential was unable to obtain a written transcript, here is how the conversation probably went.

Mueller: Ray, I just want you to know that relations between the FBI and the NYPD have never been better.

Kelly: Bob, I think you know that I have always had the highest regard for the FBI.

Mueller: Just because you ordered your top officers at the Joint Terrorist Task Force to steal confidential FBI files doesn’t mean we don’t trust each other.

Kelly: Just because your agents refused to stand behind our two most recent terrorism arrests doesn’t mean that we don’t have a strong relationship.

Mueller: Just because you didn’t inform us when you spied on Muslims in Newark or on the Somali community in Buffalo doesn’t mean we can’t work together.

Fedarcyk: Will someone please shoot me?

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt