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De Blasio's Police Commissioner: Law Enforcement Angst

November 11, 2013

If there’s a phrase to describe the feeling among much of the city’s law enforcement community concerning Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s selection of a police commissioner, that phrase is high anxiety.

The new mayor is just a few weeks shy of making the most important appointment of his mayoralty. As Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union puts it, de Blasio’s relationship with the NYPD is going to be the bellwether of his success as mayor, especially in the first six months.

Yet no one — maybe not even de Blasio himself — is certain at this point whom he will appoint.

Perhaps his wife, Chirlane McCray — who de Blasio said in his victory speech would help vet key appointments — has a favorite. [Let’s hope the mayor-elect recognizes that his landslide election mandate was not a mandate for her. Maybe he should reflect on former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s remark during his ill-starred presidential run that, if elected, he’d have his then mistress, Judy Nathan, sit in on cabinet meetings. Giuliani ended up with only one delegate.]

So far as we know, de Blasio has met with two candidates for the P.C. job: Bill Bratton and Philip Banks. People who have spoken with them say each thinks he’ll be the next P.C.

The two are as different as chalk and cheese.

Bratton is the internationally acclaimed celebrity figure who successfully ran police departments in Boston, Los Angeles and New York, where in 1994 he instituted what he called “pro-active” policing. In his book Turnaround [Random House, 1998], he maintained that under the previous administration of Mayor David Dinkins — during which murders hit a high of 2245 in 1990 — the NYPD all but gave up controlling crime.

Such proactive policing included Stop and Frisk, which has been around since the 19th-century gangs of New York, and which virtually everyone in the city’s law enforcement community agrees is a necessary police tool.

Promising a 40-per-cent reduction in crime over three years in New York, Bratton largely succeeded. Nonetheless, he lasted only two years as police commissioner.

His book contract with Random House did him in. It became the ostensible reason Giuliani forced him out. The real reason was that the size and number of Bratton’s pictures exceeded those of Rudy’s in the Daily News.

De Blasio’s campaign website described Bratton as having “pioneered” community policing, a vaguely defined term that means different things to different people.

If indeed Bratton pioneered community policing, it wasn’t in New York City. Rather, it was Ray Kelly, then police commissioner under Dinkins from 1992-93.

After Giuliani was elected and replaced Kelly with Bratton, both Rudy and Bratton began referring to community policing disparagingly as “social work.”

Banks — who since March has been the NYPD’s Chief of the Department, its highest ranking uniformed officer — is virtually unknown to the public.

He is also the NYPD’s highest-ranking black officer.

What little name recognition he has, he owes to Kelly, who has over-promoted him over the past five years, jumping him over many higher-ranking chiefs.

Kelly did something else for Banks. He allowed him to speak to the media — something Kelly allowed no other police official, including Banks’s predecessor as Chief of Department, Joe Esposito.

Yet Banks’s only position of true police leadership — commanding officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan North — lasted but a year.

For the next three years, he headed the Community Affairs Bureau, a position held only by civilians and the department’s few black chiefs, whom the department has traditionally marginalized in what are known as black-track jobs.

At Community Affairs, Banks succeeded Douglas Zeigler, who was then the department’s highest-ranking black chief. When Kelly appointed Zeigler to Community Affairs in 2005, he changed the reporting line of the School Safety Division — another black-track job, which had operated under the Chief of Patrol — placing the division under Community Affairs.

That meant that Kelly further pigeon-holed the department’s few top black officers.

Gerald Nelson, then the department’s second highest-ranking black chief, headed School Safety. Changing the reporting line meant that the second highest-ranking black chief reported to the highest.

It is not clear why Kelly is so high on Banks. Does he see a special quality in him? Or is he protecting himself and his legacy, seeking to undercut criticisms of him as racist because of his Stop and Frisk policies?

Under Kelly — who returned as police commissioner in 2002 and for the next 12 years lacked any supervision from City Hall — Stop and Frisk turned into millions of stops of young black and Hispanic men, virtually all of whom were not charged with a crime. Reforming this policy formed a cornerstone of de Blasio’s election strategy.

This is not to say that Banks is unqualified to run the NYPD. Rather, he is untested.

Bratton also jumped his Chief of Department, John Timoney, over higher-ranking chiefs. Timoney did O.K. He subsequently became Bratton’s First Deputy and after Giuliani passed him over for Howard Safir as police commissioner, he moved on to head departments in Philadelphia and Miami. He now works in a top policing job in Bahrain in the middle east.

Although, so far as is known, de Blasio has met with only Bratton and Banks, there are many people out there capable of running the NYPD.

We’ll start with three. Rafael Pineiro, the current First Deputy Commissioner, is being pushed by the department’s disparate groups of Hispanic officers. That his candidacy has gained little traction reflects both his and the Hispanic community’s limited political clout.

Then there’s Joe Dunne, the NYPD’s former Chief of Department and First Deputy Commissioner under Giuliani, who now runs the Port Authority Police. If de Blasio wants someone in sync with the city’s minority communities, he might check out the standing ovation Dunne received at his swearing in at Police Plaza from the scores of black and Hispanic New Yorkers he worked with over the years.

There’s also Garry McCarthy, the former NYPD Deputy Commissioner who headed Newark’s police department and currently heads Chicago’s. [We’ll overlook his 2005 dust up with the Palisades Parkway over his daughter’s parking ticket that led to his brief arrest.]

What provokes higher anxiety among some in law enforcement is that, flush from his landslide victory, de Blasio may consider bringing in a police commissioner unfamiliar with the city and NYPD. The last two politically liberal mayors — Dinkins and John Lindsay — did just that, with disastrous results.

Lindsay appointed Howard Leary from Philadelphia. The result was a corruption scandal so severe that Leary was forced to resign. Lindsay was forced to appoint the Knapp Corruption Commission to investigate the NYPD, which permanently changed the department [for the better.]

Dinkins appointed Lee Brown of Houston. Brown’s mindlessness led to the collapse of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. His failure to contain the Crown Heights riots — and not racism as Dinkins claims — led to his election defeat by Giuliani.

As a small cog in the Dinkins administration, de Blasio saw some of this first-hand. Hopefully, he has learned from it.

Here’s the week’s rundown of the Gordian knot that lawyers and judges have tied themselves up in, following a three-judge appeals panel’s removal of federal Judge Shira Scheindlin from the Stop-and-Frisk litigation.

l. Last Wednesday, in a how-dare-you moment, Scheindlin filed a motion, demanding the appeals panel reverse its ruling that removed her from the case.

2. Last Thursday, four police unions filed a motion seeking to participate on the appeals process, should de Blasio withdraw the city’s appeal of Scheindlin’s original ruling that Stop and Frisk, as practiced under Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, was unconstitutional.

3. Last Friday, the Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal with the full 13-judge appeals court, asking them to vacate the three-judge panel’s ruling removing Scheindlin, and seeking a review of her actions before a different panel or before the full appeals court.

4. Shortly after midnight Saturday, Mayor Bloomberg, without consulting de Blasio, filed a motion with the original three-judge panel, asking them, on the basis of their decision to remove Scheindlin, also to reverse her ruling that Stop and Frisk is unconstitutional.

5. No idea what the next move is or what the outcome will be.

Edited by Donald Forst

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