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Dealing the Police Race Cards

October 21, 2013

In tried and true race-card politics, the police department’s disparate groups of Hispanic officers are calling for the appointment of the city’s first Hispanic police commissioner.

“A Tale of Two Cities, One White and One Black; Latino Not Included” headlined a news release, issued Sunday by the department’s Hispanic Society, National Latino Officers Association and New York Dominican Officers Organization.

While Bill de Blasio has mentioned the NYPD’s African-American Chief of Department Philip Banks as his possible commissioner, the department’s three Hispanic groups say the presumed mayor-elect is ignoring a more qualified Hispanic: First Deputy Commissioner, Rafael Pineiro.

As an officer from one those organizations, who asked for anonymity, put it: “How is it that Banks, who has been Chief of Department for less than a year, is being considered for Police Commissioner? Isn’t this a slap in the face to First Deputy Pineiro, who has 41 years of experience and is the Number Two in charge of the department behind Kelly?”

Latino officers took it as a further slap that Banks did not attend the annual Hispanic Heritage Celebration two weeks ago at Police Plaza. Nor did he attend the National Latino Officers Association annual dinner and awards ceremony, although he did attend the recent dinner of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Police sources say that while de Blasio has met with Banks — whom outgoing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly appointed earlier this year as the department’s top uniformed officer — de Blasio has not met with Pineiro.

Asked if this were true, de Blasio spokesman, Dan Levitan, wrote in an email: “We don't comment on private conversations, and Bill is focused on winning the election right now.”

Pineiro did not return a phone call from this reporter. Banks could not be reached for comment.

At least on paper, Pineiro would appear to have the stronger resume. He served as a borough commander in the Bronx, holds a masters degree in management and a law degree, and served as Chief of Personnel before Kelly appointed him First Deputy in 2010.

But a resume is sometimes less than meets the eye.

Take Pineiro’s position as First Deputy. The First Deputy Commissioner has no defined role. His authority is as wide or as narrow as the police commissioner allows it to be.

Former police commissioner Bill Bratton — whom de Blasio has also mentioned as a possible successor to Kelly — granted his First Deputy, John Timoney, a wide swath of authority.

Bratton’s successor, Howard Safir, did the same for his First Deputy, Pat Kelleher.

Mayor Ed Koch appointed a strong First Deputy, Patrick J. Murphy, to keep an eye on his often errant police commissioner, Ben Ward.

Kelly, however, has granted his First Deputy Commissioners no authority.

This was true of George Grasso, who served from 2002 until 2010 when he retired and Pineiro replaced him.

It is true of Pineiro, whose appointment has been viewed as mostly a symbol of “diversity.”

Many in the department feel that Kelly also appointed Banks Chief of Department as a symbol because of Kelly’s Stop and Frisk problems, jumping him over more experienced chiefs — in particular Chief of Patrol James Hall, who is white.

Although Kelly lauded Banks as “an outstanding field commander,” two of Banks’s most recent promotions were heading the School Safety Division and the Community Affairs Bureau, which have been “black track” appointments that Kelly reserved for black or other so-called “minority” chiefs.

While Banks is well-regarded by those who know him, his lack of command experience may ultimately be a reason that de Blasio might turn to a more proven commander like Bratton.

De Blasio is white. But he is married to a black woman and has polled well among black New Yorkers. Because of this, some people close to him feel he is under no political pressure to appoint a “minority,” a black or Hispanic as police commissioner.

. While New York City has never had an Hispanic police commissioner, it has never had an Italian police commissioner either.

This may come as a surprise to some because Italians represent the largest ethnic group in the NYPD.

So is it discrimination or coincidence?

Not even the department’s unofficial official historian Thomas Reppetto has an answer. “I just don’t know,” he says.

Reppetto says that Louis Anemone, former Chief of Department under Rudy Giuliani, came the closest. “He was a hard-charging guy but, when the going got tough, his bosses ran away from him.” Then police commissioner Howard Safir turned on him. Giuliani ran away from him — almost as fast as he ran away from Bernie Kerik.

The department’s official unofficial historian, retired sergeant Mike Bosak, also isn’t sure why no Italian has ever been appointed police commissioner.

Bosak offers this observation: “New York was an Irish town and Tammany Hall was an Irish entity. With a few Germans.”

THE BIGGEST EGO. So Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota thinks Bill Bratton is “the most egotistical police commissioner in the city’s history.” Bratton laughed off the remark, and with good reason.

Should Lhota by some miracle be elected mayor, his stated choice for police commissioner is Ray Kelly, whose ego, as Your Humble Servant can personally attest, surpasses Bratton’s.

True, Bratton can be insufferable. He can talk about himself ad nauseum. But he’s neither mean nor malicious. He’s truly a happy warrior. Ask him how he is doing and he will instinctively respond, “Life is good.” He actually means it.

Kelly’s a different bird. He sees slights and insults where they don’t exist. He sees betrayal whenever those close to him choose to retire from the NYPD without his imprimatur.

Start with his first department spokesman, Michael O’Looney. When he told Kelly he was leaving, police sources say that Kelly chewed him out big-time — in front of people.

Or take Sgt. Manny Lopez of Kelly’s security detail. After Kelly drove him out of the detail and he tried to retire, Kelly had him investigated for overtime abuse.

Or take Joyce Steven, the first female African-American chief, who Kelly appointed amid much fanfare to head Community Affairs. A year later when she announced her retirement and was replaced by the department’s top black chief, Douglas Zeigler, Kelly’s spokesman, Paul Browne, told the NY Times that Kelly had been dissatisfied with her.

Finally, there’s Browne, Kelly’s longtime aide whose life revolved around Kelly’s. Sources at Police Plaza say his decision to depart for Notre Dame last September blind-sided Kelly. If that’s true, what does that tell you about the end game of their relationship?

With the appointment of someone named Jeh Johnson as Director of Homeland Security, it seems apparent that President Obama had never considered Ray Kelly as a serious candidate, and that this had nothing to do with Kelly’s Stop and Frisk policies.

Remember Vice President Joe Biden’s fist bump to Kelly in Washington after Biden’s farewell speech for outgoing DHS head Janet Napolitano? It was all a charade.

Obama apparently wanted someone he knew and trusted not to rock the boat. Kelly was neither. He probably would have done the job better than Jeh or anyone else.

Edited by Donald Forst

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