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The Mayor's Cop?

March 26, 2018

When Jim O’Neill became police commissioner in 2016, he was known as a “cop’s cop.” With his recent appointment of Phillip Walzak as the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, he seems more like the mayor’s cop.

The Daily News described Walzak — who served as Bill de Blasio’s press secretary, his communications director in his 2013 election campaign, and who helped run his 2017 re-election campaign — as a City Hall operative.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialPBA President Pat Lynch described Walzak’s appointment as “the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD’s primary mission is to serve as a political tool ...”

Lynch’s characterization may be over the top, however. Virtually all department spokespersons in the last 40 years, if not longer, have come from City Hall. Some like Alice T. McGillion, who served in the Koch administration, and Tom Kelly, who served under Rudy Giuliani, were outstanding.

McGillion became an advocate for departmental transparency. She also protected Ben Ward, the city’s first African-American police commissioner, so that reporters learned little of his personal demons. Ward had a drinking problem that became known six months after he disappeared for three days during the 1984 Palm Sunday massacre in East New York, perhaps the largest mass shooting in NYC history.

Kelly juggled the competing interests of Giuliani and Bill Bratton, amid Bratton’s maneuverings to land himself — rather than the mayor — on the cover of the Jan. 15, 1996 issue of Time magazine as the face of the city’s dramatic crime reduction. Giuliani fired Bratton three months later.

But neither McGillion nor Kelly — in fact no NYPD spokesperson in the past 40 years — has been a top aide to a mayor, as Walzak has been to de Blasio.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittHis appointment “has the potential to be troublesome because he is clearly a campaign guy,” says a former department official who served as DCPI and who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the hire. “Even though there is no impending campaign, will he [Walzak] use the [NYPD] platform for the greater promotion of Bill de Blasio to the national spotlight or secondarily to help his wife achieve whatever her goals are?”

“On the other hand,” the official continued, “Walzak is a communications professional. He can use his skills to help the city and the department. It could be just fine. We will have to watch and see.”

The department announced Walzak’s appointment in a single-spaced, full-page news release that listed his accomplishments, including having served as Director of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Perhaps inadvertently, the release omitted any mention of Walzak’s role in both of de Blasio’s mayoral campaigns.

In its first paragraph, the release stated that Walzak “is fully committed to our Neighborhood Policing philosophy,” which has become O’Neill’s and the mayor’s signature policing policy.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialWhile neighborhood policing may be a terrific concept, there have been problems with its implementation that neither de Blasio nor O’Neill has publicly acknowledged. Last Tuesday, for example, the department held a meeting at the Police Academy with captains and above and their civilian equivalents “to get more people involved,” said a source, apparently because there is a lack of engagement at various levels of the department.

And despite de Blasio’s attempts at virtually every police-related news conference to portray neighborhood policing as helping to lower city’s crime rate, there is no quantitative evidence that it has any more to do with lowering crime than did stop-and-frisk under former Commissioner Ray Kelly, who had similarly portrayed it as being responsible for lowering the crime rate.

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