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De Blasio Puzzle, De Blasio Muddle

June 29, 2015

Back when I was a young reporter for Time magazine, my boss gave me some journalistic advice that I’ve always practiced.

“Never lie,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to tell the full truth. But a reporter can never lie.”

We leave it for the public to ponder which path Mayor Bill de Blasio chose, following his stunning about-face over hiring additional cops.

Since the beginning of his term a year and a half ago — most recently, just three weeks ago — he had said the NYPD needed no more cops. In fact, he did not include an additional number in his executive budget.

Suddenly last week, he said the department would hire an additional 1,297 officers — 297 more than the 1,000 extra cops sought by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

His explanation the day the deal was announced — that there had been long conversations in recent weeks about more officers for the NYPD “that allows us to strengthen our police force while encouraging a deepening of reform, while finding key reforms on the fiscal front” — provides no answer.

This reporter takes no position on whether the hiring of additional cops is good or bad for the city. What is a not good for the city is a mayor whose word cannot be believed.

The mayor’s about-face is puzzling because he publicly and repeatedly rejected arguments by Commissioner Bill Bratton for more cops. De Blasio opposed an increase in the NYPD rank-and-file, even after Bratton specified how they would be utilized: about 300 for full-time counter-terrorism duty, replacing the catch-as-catch-can system in which different cops are selected from the precincts each day; and some 300 others to engage in “community policing,” as envisioned by Chief of Department James O’Neill.

Bratton had also said he expected to get the additional officers, though he never specified a number. Around Police Plaza, the word was that a deal was probably in the works. Top officials said that, despite the mayor’s denials, they expected the number to be between 600 and 1,000 new officers.

So how did the mayor agree to the 1,297? So far, City Hall has said nothing beyond what the mayor offered the day the deal was announced.

Bratton brushed off the question about the new officers when asked last week, and no one at Police Plaza has been able to explain it either.

Some outside the department have suggested the mayor yielded to Mark-Viverito so that she, rather than he, could take credit (unlikely) or that he was out-maneuvered by Bratton (unlikely, but possible.)

The most favorable explanation for de Blasio's change of heart came from a top department official who said that City Hall had pushed the department to be more specific about needs until the NYPD articulated programs the mayor could accept. Still, this official acknowledged he could make no sense of the mayor’s longstanding claim that the department needed no more officers.

Chief Gerald Nelson had his retirement dinner last week, and it was all bouquets and roses for one of the department’s highest-ranking and longest-serving black officers. Nelson served 41 years.

“Dignity” and “humility” were words used to describe Nelson by speakers who included former Chief of Community Affairs, Douglas Zeigler; former Inspector Timothy Pearson, now president of the NY chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement executives; and former captain Eric Adams, now Brooklyn Borough president.

Also present was Daily News editorial page editor Arthur Browne, author of a book about Samuel Battle, the NYPD’s Jackie Robinson, who joined the department in 1911 and suffered even harsher discrimination than “42” did 35 years later.

Adams pointed out how, like pioneering black chief William Bracey a generation before him, Nelson served as an example to young black officers like himself.

No one can dispute that the department is a better place than it was in Battle’s time, or in Bracey’s.

Still, how far has the needle moved? While the percentage of Hispanics has risen to nearly 30 percent of the force, the percentage of black officers has remained static at 15 percent and has in some respects regressed. 

One third of black officers are females, indicating a black male problem. The most recent class has only 59 black males or 7 percent of the class — a percentage equal to that of 1970, which is 45 years ago.

Even those in top positions have been dissed. For part of their careers, Nelson and Zeigler were “black-tracked” — placed in leadership positions reserved for minorities or females — Nelson in the School Safety Division, Zeigler in Community Affairs.

Shortly before the outspoken Adams retired in 2006 to run for the State Senate, former Commissioner Ray Kelly attempted to fire him and take away his pension over a non-police matter: publicly questioning why, the year before, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had begged off a mayoral debate with opponent Freddy Ferrer, citing a phony terrorist threat.

Bracey, too, paid a price for speaking out. In 1999, 17 years after he retired, he was ordered to turn in his gun, which he had been issued 53 years before when he joined the NYPD. The reason? He was arrested at Police Plaza for protesting the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo.

. One of three officers promoted to deputy chief at Friday’s ceremony was Kristel Johnson, the former commander of the 113th Precinct in Queens.

Johnson was quite a commander. After a local Pathmark security guard apprehended a female officer, claiming she had stolen cosmetics, Johnson drove to Pathmark and persuaded the company not to file charges against the officer, who was placed on modified duty and then allowed to retire with her pension.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s executive officer, Captain Matthew Travaglia, was an attorney who conducted his law practice while claiming he was on duty. He was punished by being transferred to the 4 p.m.-to-midnight tour, allowing him to maintain his law practice during the day.

Then there was the precinct’s COMPSTAT sergeant, who Johnson blamed for failing to process complaint reports from the Port Authority Police at JFK airport, which is in the 113th precinct’s jurisdiction. Under orders from Johnson, the sergeant, who was the COMPSTAT supervisor, did not immediately input the reports, known as 61s. In fact, Johnson had authorized the delay in posting the reports to make crime in her precinct appear less serious than it was.

When the lapse was discovered Johnson blamed the sergeant, transferring him to another precinct. [See NYPD Confidential Aug. 16, Sept. 6 and Dec. 6, 2010.]

In what can only be described as mindless political correctness, NBC’s Nightly News took the extraordinary step last week of censoring the president when in discussing the country’s continued racism, he used the word “nigger.”

The network announced it didn’t want to offend anyone so while flashing Obama’s words across the screen as he spoke, it bleeped the dreaded word.

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