One Police Plaza

One promotion, long way to go

June 15, 1998

As if to demonstrate that racism no longer exists in the New York City Police Department, its Promotion Review Board has approved Lt. Tom Higdon for the rank of captain.

Should First Deputy Pat Kelleher concur, Higdon will become - as this column pointed out last month - one of fewer than 20 black captains, inspectors and chiefs combined in a department of nearly 40,000 officers.

Many officers say racism plays less of a role in those numbers than the fact that so few blacks sit for - much less pass - the department's promotional exams for sergeant, lieutenant and captain. More than one officer told One Police Plaza that the number of blacks passing the captains exam is so low that promoting a black lieutenant to captain actually means promoting him to inspector and chief, both of which are appointed from the captains ranks.

Yet another of the NYPD's unsolved mysteries is why so few blacks pass these promotional exams. Apparently the low number is so embarrassing that neither the Police Department nor the city's Department of Personnel would release exact figures. Newsday last week filed for them under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The low number also prompted a study last year by Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel. For unknown reasons, Rangel has not released his findings. His so-called Washington spokesman Emile Milne did not return a telephone call from Newsday.

Now let's return to Higdon, who recently had been rejected for captain by the Review Board for refusing to acknowledge responsibility for a past disciplinary infraction - his failure to supervise a detective, who had an accident in a department car. Higdon, who lost 10 days' pay over the incident, had maintained that the department disciplined him in retaliation for a complaint of racism he'd made after a Swedish delegation specifically asked that he visit Sweden and the department sent a white officer instead.

This time around, the apparently well-coached Higdon acknowledged he might have erred in not properly supervising the detective.

Lest anyone believe the department was overly generous to him because he was black, the Review Board also approved four white officers for captain. One had been accused of being a peeping Tom - specifically with peeping at a female sergeant in the locker room of the Traffic Control Division, which was never proven.

A second spent five days in jail for refusing to put his wife on his medical plan. He had obtained a Dominican divorce to marry another woman but the judge refused to accept the divorce's validity.

A Most Unhappy Fellow. Police Commissioner Howard Safir pronounced himself unhappy last week with a report on alleged sexual harassment that calls Staten Island Borough Commander Gene Devlin "evasive" and his executive officer Chief Phil Erickson a liar. Actually, "unhappy" is an understatement. Safir and First Deputy Kelleher were said to be seething at Sandra Marsh, the department's deputy commissioner for equal employment opportunity, whose report was returned to her for "further investigation."

In the bizarre ways of the NYPD, Marsh herself is named as a defendant in the harassment suit for supposedly not taking action to protect the female police complainants.

The Unhappy Wrynns. Lt. Nancy McLaughlin, wife of Insp. James Wrynn and mother of Det. John Wrynn, didn't like it one bit when her stablemate in the Bronx detectives bureau, Lt. Freddy Solomon, received a call from his friend Dave of the FBI, inviting him to a luncheon. Nancy thought Dave was David Kocienewski, a New York Times reporter who's been skewering her husband and son for alleged corruption, and screamed that Freddy was leaking to him. She screamed so loudly that her bosses had Solomon move his desk to another office. "No comment," Nancy says.

Heard: That Deputy Insp. Ronald Wasson of Staten Island's 120th Precinct is yet again under investigation for allegedly doctoring crime stats. As a captain in Brooklyn's 77th Precinct, Wasson was cleared of similar charges and promoted to deputy inspector. This is the second investigation of him since he became commanding officer in the 120th.

He didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Seen: A medical report by police doctors Jacob Hirsch, Julius Mendel and John Andino approving retired Chief Charlie Reuther for a tax-free, line-of-duty disability pension, courtesy of the heart bill, meaning virtually any heart problem is assumed to be job-related. We're afraid to print exactly how much money Reuther will pack away each year through this corruptive piece of legislation for fear the figure will burn a hole through this newspaper.

©1998 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.