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The NYPD: The New Normal

June 16, 2014

Shootings across the city are up 13 per cent from a year ago — 43 per cent in the past month. No big deal, says Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Crime goes up, he said last week. Crime goes down.

Are you kidding me? Imagine how those numbers — and that response — would have played during Bratton’s first turn as commissioner under Rudy Giuliani 20 years ago.  Or under former police commissioner Ray Kelly. When homicide, the bell-weather crime, rose slightly one year, Kelly’s spokesman, Paul Browne, went into verbal contortions to explain it away.

But that was before Mayor Bill de Blasio — when the department’s monthly, and even weekly, crime statistics were the city’s signature political issue. Every police commissioner [and police spokesman] for the past 20 years had to deal with those short-term figures, no matter how tenuous they were.

Between 1994 and 1996, Bratton’s first turn as police commissioner, he and Giuliani used declining crime rates to pump up Bratton’s policies of “Broken Windows” and “Proactive Policing.” At the same time, they ridiculed the crime-fighting policies of Rudy’s predecessor, Mayor David Dinkins, and of his two police commissioners, Lee Brown and Kelly.

Giuliani and Bratton were especially dismissive of Dinkins-era “community policing,” a friendly-sounding but ill-defined policy that Giuliani and Bratton termed “social work.”

When Kelly returned as commissioner, he forgot all about community policing. Instead, he did Giuliani’s and Bratton’s aggressive crime strategies one better.  His Stop and Frisk policy for minority neighborhoods was so aggressive that a federal judge declared it unconstitutional.

Bratton’s shrug to the recent spike in shootings underscores the political revolution that has occurred under de Blasio, whose criticisms of Stop and Frisk catapulted him from a long-shot candidate to City Hall.

Now for the first time in 20 years, crime is no longer the city’s signature political issue. De Blasio’s signature issue is public education — early childhood education in particular.

De Blasio has also brought his brand of ethnic and racial politics to the NYPD.

We’ve seen how he made sure Bratton retained the department’s highest-ranking Hispanic and black officials — at least temporarily. The former was First Deputy Rafael Pineiro who, as an Assistant Chief 20 years before, Bratton did not particularly care for but whom the department’s Hispanic organizations of police officers pushed for police commissioner.

The latter was Chief of Department Philip Banks, whom Bratton did not know.

We’ve also seen how de Blasio interceded in the arrest of a prominent black minister and political supporter, Orlando Findlayter, bypassing Bratton and personally contacting one of the department’s few black chiefs to ensure Findlayter’s release.

No big deal, said Bratton, who now talks favorably about community policing.

The appointment of 41-year-old Lt. Rob Gonzalez as the Assistant Commissioner of Training appears to further reflect the new direction of NYPD politics.

Gonzalez is the articulate and outspoken former head of the Latino Officers Association, one of the Hispanic groups that lobbied for Pineiro as commissioner.

Gonzalez, who has a Ph.D. that the LOA has long trumpeted, sent his resume to de Blasio.

Let’s point out that most discretional NYPD appointments like Gonzalez’s, have political overtones. In the past they tended toward cronies, most of whom were white males.

Gonzalez is personally familiar with this. In 2004, he was passed over for the prestigious 10-week course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, in favor of a white lieutenant who happened to be the son of a two-star chief. 

Then Deputy Commissioner of Training James Fyfe assured LOA founder, Anthony Miranda, that the selection had been based on merit, not internal politics.

Fyfe wrote Miranda that Kelly “even voided all nominations that were then pending so that we could institute an objective and tamper-proof system.”

The FBI subsequently dismissed the white lieutenant from Quantico for misconduct, citing excessive drinking, consorting with a married woman, and publicly bad-mouthing the FBI at a restaurant in Little Italy.

So much for the system’s having been objective and tamper-proof.

So Morty Matz, the 89-year-old longtime press aide to former Brooklyn district Attorney Joe Hynes, appears to be the first person subpoenaed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, following allegations that Hynes improperly used staffers in his re-election campaign last year against Ken Thompson.

Those allegations were revealed in a Department of Investigation report based on 6,000 emails that turned up in the New York Times before they apparently got to Schneiderman.

Some people have noted that DOI head Mark Peters did not sign the report. They also noted that Peters had run against Hynes in 2005 and contributed $500 to Thompson in 2013, which they say merited Peters’s recusal from the investigation.

DOI spokeswoman Diane Struzzi refuted both notions. “This report has the commissioner’s name on the cover page and the reports were issued to the appropriate entities accompanied by a letter signed by the Commissioner,” she wrote in an email.

Regarding Peters’s recusal, she wrote: “The facts in the report are overwhelming and anything else is a distraction.”

Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Some emails are indeed overwhelming, specifically those between Hynes and Brooklyn Administrative Judge Barry Kamins, who, the emails reveal, improperly advised Hynes on his campaign. Kamins has since been relieved of his duties.

But the allegations against Matz are not so clear. Was he a press aide, as he claims, and not a campaign consultant as the DOI report alleges?

As a person familiar with Hynes’s office operations put it: “Morty was a press guy. At every press conference, Morty brought the food. Whenever he said anything about politics, no one listened to him.”

Some 20 years ago, this reporter attended a lecture on crime at the Rockefeller Institute. The lecturer, a professor of Public Health at the Harvard Medical School, discussed the results of a study he had led in the Roxbury section of Boston, seeking to determine the correlatives  of crime.

The most pronounced correlative, his study found, was not poverty. Nor was it education. Rather, he said, it was the lack of a male in the house.

Mayor de Blasio is probably unaware of that study but he intuitively understands the correlation between the lack of a father and the resulting problems their children suffer. To commemorate Father’s Day, de Blasio sponsored a Fatherhood Initiative last Thursday at Gracie Mansion, honoring ten men who rose from rough childhoods to become supportive fathers.

The mayor spoke of his own rough childhood — of his father who, after having lost part of his leg in World War II, became an alcoholic and left his family. First Lady Chirlane McCray talked about her own father, who she said was a strong presence in her and her sister’s lives although he himself never knew his own father.

McCray also spoke about her and her husband’s reaction when they brought their new-born daughter Chiara home from the hospital. She said, in words that every new parent can appreciate: “We looked at each other and said ‘What do we do now?’”

NYPD Confidential erred last week when it said that Eugene Gold was forced out as Brooklyn District Attorney after he molested a 9-year-old girl at a D.A.’s convention. That incident occurred a year after he had left the D.A.’s office.

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