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Blue on Blue: More Actual Than Alternate Facts
February 6, 2017
Each of NYPD’s last four commissioners has written books, most of which are filled with hot air, goop and self-promotion — and in the case of former Commissioner Bernie Kerik’s autobiography “The Lost Son,” maybe some alternative facts.
Now comes “Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops,” from former Chief Charles Campisi, a 41-year veteran who headed the Internal Affairs Bureau for 17 and a half years. It’s probably as honest and down-to-earth an account from a top NYPD official as we’re going to get.
Campisi loved his job, loves the NYPD, and represents the best of what the department, at least in theory, stands for. Yet, as decent and intelligent a guy as he is, his views on a couple of cutting-edge issues are antithetical to those of the public. To paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway, cops are different from you and me.
Corruption has been ingrained in NYPD history, surfacing every 20 years or so since the late 19th century. The modern Internal Affairs Bureau grew out of the Knapp Commission hearings in the early 1970s, which revealed systemic corruption at every level of the department, even in the Commissioner’s Office.
The first two heads of Internal Affairs, Sydney Cooper and John Guido, were strong and determined leaders, and kept corruption relatively in check. Guido’s successor, Chief Daniel Sullivan, however, was cowed by then-Commissioner Benjamin Ward, who Sullivan said “didn’t want to hear bad news.” Sullivan slacked off. The result was the Mollen corruption scandal of the early 1990s, which led to the convictions of three dozen cops from the 30th Precinct on drug-related charges. Hence the name: The Dirty Thirty.
Enter Campisi, who was appointed to head IAB in 1996. Five years before that, as the commanding officer of the 6th Precinct, he was involved in a harrowing incident, facing down a man wielding a six-inch knife. He had just stabbed another man.
“As a cop under the right circumstances, shooting him won’t just be my job,” he writes, “it will be my sworn duty.”
Yet, he continues, “I desperately don’t want to do it. Which is why I’m shouting and praying: DROP THE KNIFE! [Don’t make me have to shoot this guy!] DROP THE KNIFE…..PLEASE DROP THE KNIFE…”
The man did drop the knife. Campisi never fired a shot.
As Chief of IAB, Campisi arrived at his office on the 12th floor of 1 Police Plaza at 4 a.m. every day. During his tenure — he retired in 2013 — there were no major corruption scandals, at least in the sense of traditional corruption. Instead, the NYPD faced perhaps the two most brutal acts in its history, both of which Campisi investigated.
The first was the 1997 sodomizing in the 70th Precinct bathroom of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, by Officer Justin Volpe. The second was the 41-bullet fusillade by four cops that killed the unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo in the Bronx in 1999.
In the Louima case, IAB broke the so-called Blue Wall of Silence, which was encouraged by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. In the Diallo case, however, the public might have trouble understanding Campisi’s defense of the four cops, one of whom had mistaken Diallo’s wallet for a gun.
The PBA, the cop union, lifted heaven and earth to move the trial from the Bronx to Albany, where the cops were acquitted. The union called the shooting “a tragedy, not a crime,” a point of view Campisi echoes.
The public also may question Campisi’s defense of Ray Kelly, under whom Campisi served for 14 years, and Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy, which a federal court ruled was illegal. Here, in perhaps the book’s only place, Campisi pulls his punches, suggesting that it was former Commissioner Bill Bratton, rather than Kelly, who was responsible for the millions of illegal stops during Kelly’s tenure.
In his first term as commissioner in 1994, Campisi writes, Bratton insisted “that cops on the street be more proactive in conducting stop-question-frisks. … As a result, the number of stop-question-frisks surged — by 2012 the NYPD was making more than 500,000 stop-question-frisks a year — and crime had plummeted.”
The above, however, are alternative facts.
In actual fact, crime had plummeted nearly a decade before Kelly returned as commissioner in 2002, and the more than 500,000 stop-question-frisks [the number reached 685,000 in 2012] occurred not under Bratton but under Kelly.
Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt