One Police Plaza

Bitterness Over Feds' Inaction

January 15, 2001

Former Mayor David N. Dinkins has become the city's first politician to publicly voice his bitterness at what many in law enforcement suspect-that the 17-month federal investigation into the Police Department after the Louima and Diallo incidents is dead.

"I'm damn disappointed. We had our best shot ever with two U.S. attorney's offices. I can't conceive of them not bringing the damned suit," he said, referring to federal threats that could have led to a monitor of the Police Department.

"It boggles the mind," he said. "I came six or seven times with [the Rev. Al] Sharpton to meet with Eric Holder," the No. 2 man in the Justice Department.

"The fact that there is a new administration is no excuse," Dinkins said.

With just a week remaining for the Clinton administration, the official line from the Justice Department is that the investigation remains "ongoing."

Justice Department spokeswoman Kara Peterman suggested in a telephone interview Friday that the issue might be determined by the Republican administration of George W. Bush.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn began their investigation into department patterns and practices after Officer Justin Volpe used a broken broomstick to sodomize Abner Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse in Brooklyn.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan joined the investigation after four officers from the Street Crime Unit fatally shot Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. After the four officers were acquitted in State Supreme Court in Albany, the Justice Department announced it might pursue federal civil rights charges against them. That also appears dead.

While even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has acknowledged the department needed reform, the idea of an outside federal presence overseeing the department appears to be largely a black-as opposed to a minority-concern. The city's highest elected Hispanic official, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, has stated, for example, that an outside federal monitor is not necessary.

Public Advocate Mark Green, a mayoral candidate whose success is contingent on black support, argues that the federal investigation succeeded in forcing Giuliani to make some reforms for fear of a federal monitor.

Richard Aborn, who heads a Green team investigating police misconduct, says:"In my mind there are two barometers of police misconduct. One is the number of complaints filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The second is the number of lawsuits filed against the city." Both, he says, have declined.

Aborn's figures also show that while 21 percent of police officers who received substantiated civilian complaints were disciplined in 1996, by 1999, the number had risen to 61 percent. In fiscal year 1999, the number of legal claims filed against the city totaled 2,386. For the fiscal year 2000, they had fallen to 1,766.

Citing its use in other cities, police officials view the monitor as unworkable and heavyhanded.

Former First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, now police commissioner in Philadelphia, says a monitor can do more harm than good. The job of every commissioner, he says, is to make the necessary reforms so that the federal government will not step in.

"My slogan was 'Keep the Feds out of Philly' by fixing the things yourself," Timoney said.

Apparently in the case of New York, the Justice Department agrees.

The Further Adventures of Water Boy. Fresh from attacking the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Kennedy Airport crime figures, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik was assigned a new task by the mayor last week.

After the New York Post reported that mayoral girlfriend Judith Nathan had been assigned two police bodyguards because of a so-called threat, Kerik was apparently ordered to answer questions to justify the bodyguards.

Kerik said that someone had recognized Nathan on the street and said something like "Hi, aren't you Judi Nathan?" This the department considered a "possible threat." Your Humble Servant wonders whether this threat was of the same magnitude as the one that led to the mayor's assigning a dozen police bodyguards to "protect" former police commissioner Howard Safir.

Your Humble Servant also wonders whether the mayor, whose wife, Donna Hanover, is protected by New York City detectives, should seek an opinion from the Conflict of Interest Board on whether he or city taxpayers should pay for the protection of his extended family.

Setting the Record Straight. Readers of this column may be forgiven for believing that Giuliani is responsible for New York's declines in crime. We now learn that "during Bill Bratton's 27-month tenure as New York City's police commissioner, serious crime in New York City declined an unprecedented 39 percent and homicides by almost 50 percent."

That at least was the wording on invitations sent to celebrate Bratton's joining the private security firm Kroll Associates. Michael Cherkasky, chief executive at Kroll, said the mayor had been invited to attend but was unable to because he was meeting with Sharpton.

©2001 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.