One Police Plaza

Police foundation, NYPD get cozy

February 18, 2005

The Police Foundation - the mother of all police support groups with its $7-million annual budget - has established a new level of coziness with the Police Department.

The supposedly independent body is now allowing the NYPD to speak for it.

The foundation's chairwoman, Valerie Salembier, instituted the policy, explaining: "If it involves Police Department business, the press must ask the Police Department. If it has to do with the police foundation, we can for the most part answer those questions."

Easier said than done. Take the foundation's $1,000-a-head dinner next month at One Police Plaza, which is its main fund-raising event. This reporter called the foundation's executive director, Pam Delaney, to ask the following:

How many cops are attending? Will they pay the $1,000 or will they be comped? Who will be seated at Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's table? How much will they pay for that privilege?

The latter question is of particular sensitivity to Kelly. Two years ago, he canceled the Finest Foundation's fund-raiser at the St. Regis hotel. The Finest are a lesser group of buffs, so gauche as to have promoted a $50,000 "commissioner's package" - the cost of seats at Kelly's table.

In canceling, Kelly cited the "appearance of impropriety" - the suggestion that access could be purchased.

Now let's return to Delaney, who has headed the Police Foundation for 25 years and is as knowledgeable about the NYPD as any civilian in this burg. Imagine our surprise when she said she could no longer speak to the media.

Salembier assigned that task to the Howard Rubenstein public relations firm. Salembier is herself the publisher and vice-president of the magazine Harper's Bazaar, which is owned by the Hearst Corp., the consummate media company.

Rubenstein's spokeswoman, Amanita Duga-Carroll, said that having Rubenstein speak for the foundation would "streamline the information gathering process."

"I am paid to track down your answers," she said.

Alas, she provided none. Instead, she referred calls to Chief Michael Collins of the Police Department's Public Information office. Collins' response: "No comment."

Salembier later called back to say that while she couldn't provide the names of cops, about two dozen attended the annual dinner in past years. Guests at the commissioner's table traditionally include the year's honoree, the foundation's chairman, the dinner chairman and the foundation's president.

A former deputy police commissioner who asked for anonymity wondered aloud how the foundation could retain even a modicum of independence if it allowed the department to speak for it.

Founded as a hedge against police corruption after the Knapp Commission scandal of the 1970s, the foundation became the vessel through which citizens could make contributions to officers' welfare in a proper manner.

Beginning with former Commissioner Bill Bratton, it has become something of a vanity charity, funding programs not in the department's operating budget. The foundation paid for Bratton's consultants, who wrote reports praising him. One report compared Bratton to Plato.

In 2001, the foundation paid thousands of dollars for 30 busts of former Commissioner Bernard Kerik, which he gave to friends as gifts when he left the department.

The foundation also pays $50,000 for each of the half-dozen detectives stationed around the world in Kelly's overseas spy service. The foundation pays the detectives' expenses as overseas operations are not part of the NYPD's mandate. Kelly has never publicly cited the information the detectives have supplied, although he has said that they were among the first on the scene of the train bombing in Madrid a year ago.

Five years ago, in what was perhaps the foundation's finest hour, Delaney refused a demand by former Commissioner Howard Safir to pay for a newspaper ad to counter the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's call for his resignation.

With the department speaking for the foundation, such rare acts of independence may become even rarer.

©2005 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.