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Police Foundation: Is It Time to Shut It Down?

May 9, 2016

Has the Police Foundation outlived its usefulness?

Is it causing more ill than good?

Formed to stop low-level police shakedowns after the Knapp Commission scandal of the early 1970s, the non-profit foundation began as a legitimate vehicle for citizens to support the police. But 50 years later, it has grown so rich — up to $100,000 a table at its fundraising dinner — that supporters may have helped create an atmosphere that has led to the current police corruption scandal among the NYPD top brass.

The foundation has helped the police. One of its most noteworthy contributions was raising funds to pay for bullet-proofs vests. Since 9/11, it has paid the $75,000 annual expenses for each NYPD detective stationed overseas as part of the department’s anti-terrorism measures instituted by former commissioner Ray Kelly.

At the same time, the foundation has been vulnerable to dictates of NYPD commissioners. In the 1980s, former commissioner Benjamin Ward had it pay for his weight-loss program. When former commissioner Bernie Kerik left the department in 2001, he had the foundation to pay for plaster-of-Paris busts of himself to give to friends.

Today, the foundation is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for consultants favored by Commissioner Bill Bratton.

Most egregiously, it also has paid the dues and entertainment for Bratton and Kelly at the Harvard Club. In addition, the foundation paid $96,000 a year to Hamilton South, an Anna Wintour-recommended marketer whose job morphed into a public relations man for Kelly as he considered a mayoral run in 2009. South was kept on the foundation payroll through the end of Kelly’s term.

Meanwhile, the foundation’s board members and contributors have benefitted from their relationships with department officials. Its former chairman, Valerie Salembier, a vice president of the Hearst Corp. and publisher of its magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, used a police initiative that focused on vendors selling knock-off goods, including luxury lines that advertise in Harper’s Bazaar, to further her own position. She began holding seminars on trademark enforcement with Kelly as keynote speaker. She subsequently became an “assistant commissioner” in the NYPD’s public information office.

Everyone connected to the foundation, including Bratton’s closest aides, says it is essential to funding the department’s needs without going through the cumbersome process of city government. They also cite the commissioner’s need to discuss police business with people outside the department at a convenient and relatively inexpensive place like the Harvard Club.

The question, though, is this: If meeting with people outside the department is so essential, why isn’t the city picking up the tab? Why isn’t the commissioner given a stipend for entertaining? And isn’t it more appropriate to discuss police business at Police Plaza than in a public setting at a private club?

As for the overseas detectives, if their role it is so important to the safety of the city, why isn’t the city paying for it? Why is the city’s safety left in the hands of donors?

Police officials also point to how difficult it is to get the city to pay for what is considered police business. A former IAB officer described how Walter Mack, the civilian deputy commissioner of internal affairs, hired by Kelly during his first term, held a high-level luncheon of law enforcement officials in his office. When the department went to the city for reimbursement, the city offered to pay only $1.35 per person. Mack ended up paying for the luncheon out of his own pocket. Mack said last week he didn’t remember the incident.

NYPD Confidential then asked Mack, a former Marine captain and a Harvard graduate, how he viewed the foundation’s perks for commissioners and whether he felt it contributed to the current scandal. Nine chiefs and inspectors have been transferred after top police officials were accused of accepting diamonds and free travel from private citizens.

Here is his answer.  “I learned in the Marine Corps that if you are a leader, you set the example. You show your underlings what you are made of. That is what leadership is about. It is hypocritical to tell people, whose patrol guide says they can’t accept even a cup of coffee, [that] ... you are out there accepting these perks. It is just a lousy example. The best leaders I know have recognized that no matter how well you camouflage it, you cannot help but be setting a hypocritical example of what people expect from you. So don’t be surprised if they have become cynical about you and what you stand for.”

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