One Police Plaza

The NYPD Rescue: The Best and the Missing

January 19, 2009

The world saw the NYPD at its best last week, when two police divers were lowered from an unmarked Bell 412EP police helicopter into the frigid waters of the Hudson River to save passengers from US Air Flight 1549.

What the world didn’t realize was that both the NYPD’s $12 million rescue helicopters — and, sources said, at least one of its four patrol helicopters — were out of service. The department’s Aviation Unit has seven helicopters in all.

That is why the unmarked Bell 412 was pressed into duty. That’s the super-secret, counter-terrorism-fighting, surveillance helicopter with no markings that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has trumpeted as the department’s aerial answer to the next 9/11.

How secret the helicopter will be now that it has been shown on virtually every news organization in the country remains uncertain.

Maintenance problems and poor management have plagued the Aviation Unit over the past few years.

In April 2006, this column reported on the relationship between the unit’s commanding officer, Inspector Joseph Gallucci, and his private flight instructor, Mario Bernardini, whose company bought three NYPD helicopters in a bizarre swap that resulted in the NYPD’s purchase of four newer helicopters that were soon grounded with maintenance problems.

Gallucci is no longer with the unit. Maintenance responsibility now lies with the head of the Special Operations Division Assistant Chief Charles Kammerdener.

Kammerdener was to have replaced Assistant Chief John Colgan in the Counter Terrorism unit following Colgan’s retirement last year. He’s still at SOD.

Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne did not return an e-mail message, seeking comment on the out-of-service helicopters.

The Character Assassin.
The world caught up to NYPD Confidential when the Daily News last week reported an event that had been detailed here last June: the dumping of retired NYPD homicide sleuth Vernon Geberth, who has been lecturing to favorable reviews at the Chief of Detective’s homicide seminar for the past 28 years.

The News added a new wrinkle, suggesting, apparently through Deputy Commissioner Browne, that Kelly had dumped Geberth for being unprofessional.

Geberth — author of “Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques,” which is considered the bible of the homicide field —maintains that his criticism over the department’s handling of actor Heath Ledger’s drug overdose last January led to his ouster.

Geberth told the New York Post at the time that detectives should have questioned actress Mary Kate Olsen about Ledger’s death.

The panicked masseuse who discovered Ledger’s body called Olsen in California, and she directed private security guards to the apartment. The masseuse, Diana Wolozin, did not call 911 until nine minutes after contacting Olsen.

With the latest homicide class about to begin without him, Geberth said: “Apparently, a few detectives decided to take matters into their own hands and called the (Daily News) reporter to cause a little heartburn downtown.”

But the NYPD has methods of its own. Browne happens to be quite skilled in causing heartburn.

First, he told the News that Kelly’s decision had nothing to do with the Ledger investigation.

Then, what the News described as a “ranking officer” termed Geberth’s presentation “unprofessional.”

The article added: “Other top brass said the veteran investigator was told in 2007 not to promote his books so heavily and to tone down the comedic tone of the presentation. They said his lecture last January showed no improvement.”

Geberth called those unattributed quotes “character assassination.”

And he identified Browne as the suspected assassin, calling him, “Paul the Prevaricator.”

The alleged Prevaricator did not return an e-mail, seeking comment on his new moniker.

Nice Work If You Can Get It.
It’s not just a dream or a satiric prediction. According to Caribbean Net News, the former head of the FBI’s New York office, Mark Mershon, has a gig with a public relations firm, advising the government of St. Kitts and Nevis on gang violence. There he stands in a picture amidst the Premier of Nevis, the St.Kitts/Nevis Prime Minister, Minister of National Security and the Commissioner of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.

Sources say Mershon secured the St. Kitts job by making two trips to there last year without telling FBI higher-ups he was meeting with a head of state, a Bureau no-no. (They thought he was vacationing.)

On the other hand, maybe Mershon deserves some slack after his three torturous years in New York, where he stated that his first priority had been trying to make friends with Ray Kelly.

On the other hand, as one New York agent who worked under Mershon put it, “It couldn’t have been as torturous for him as it was for us.”

My Press Pass Travails.
In the wake of the NYPD’s reversing itself and granting press passes to three fellow bloggers, Your Humble Servant decided to try and get his press pass back. First, I consulted with Chris Dunn of the Civil Liberties Union, who after conferring with department attorneys, said I should contact DCPI myself. The phone there was answered by a detective and fellow Mets sufferer who was apparently so unnerved by the sound of my voice that he ran for Lieu. Gene Whyte. Whyte was apparently so upset at hearing my name that he ran for a police intern, who, fortunately, didn’t know who I was. She said the earliest appointment she could give me was Feb. 26. (More to come.)