One Police Plaza

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Window Dressing and Musical Chairs

June 29, 2009

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s promotions — touted as diversifying the upper ranks of the department following the racially charged “friendly fire” shooting of an off-duty black officer — appear to be mere window dressing.

Kelly’s personnel moves fail to address the NYPD’s most glaring racial problem: virtually no black officers in key leadership positions.

Kelly maintains that his promotion and transfer of two Hispanic chiefs and one black chief mean that more “minority” officers are ascending to the department’s top posts.

His moves follow the devastating cop-on-cop killing of the black off-duty officer, Omar Edwards. A white officer fatally shot him after mistaking him for a criminal as Edwards chased an alleged car thief after leaving work in East Harlem on May 29th.

By using the term “minority” in heralding his promotions, Kelly is fudging the true issue — the lack of black officers at the highest levels of the police department. While Hispanic officers are achieving those levels, black officers are not. Kelly’s personnel moves last Friday only accentuate this disturbing facet of NYPD life.

Take, for example, his promotion of Manhattan South’s Borough Commander James Tuller, a Hispanic officer, to three-star chief and head of the Transportation Bureau. Kelly claims Tuller is the first “minority” officer to hold that job.

But, other than window dressing, why remove the competent Tuller from the key and visible position of Manhattan South Borough Commander, where he has been for the past two years? Some feel it takes two years just to get a handle on that demanding job.

Instead, Kelly moves Tuller to the backwater Transportation Bureau. That’s the command Kelly has spent the past couple of years gutting in order to emasculate Tuller’s predecessor there, the creative and independent Mike Scagnelli, who retired last month.

Kelly’s second move was to transfer another Hispanic chief, Raymond Diaz, from Borough Commander of Manhattan North — where, like Tuller, he is respected for his competence and judgment — to replace Tuller in Manhattan South.

Diaz is to retire in two years and Manhattan South is anything but a caretaker position. Is this progress or Hispanic musical chairs?

By making certain to keep a Hispanic chief in Manhattan South, it appears as though racial politics, rather than the smooth running of the department, has become Kelly’s selection criteria. In the process, Kelly diminishes both men.

These short-sighted changes do involve one that actually increases black participation at the top levels of the department.

To replace Diaz in Manhattan North, Kelly promoted a black officer, Phil Banks, from deputy to assistant chief. [In the NYPD, an assistant chief is higher than a deputy chief.]

While Banks’ promotion is welcomed, the fact remains that in the seven years of Kelly’s commissionership, the number of blacks in top ranks has increased barely an iota. There are few, if any, black inspectors or chiefs outside the Patrol Bureau, and none in such high visibility bureaus as Detectives, Organized Crime, Intelligence or Counter Terrorism.

In fact, the only place in which blacks are represented at the top is the School Safety Division, which under Kelly has become a black-track job.

It is now under the jurisdiction of the Community Affairs Bureau, headed by the department’s highest ranking black chief, Douglas Zeigler, whom Kelly promoted to head the Organized Crime Bureau, then bounced to make way for a white chief, Anthony Izzo.

And, with all the talk about how Kelly has increased the number of black recruits, how many of those recruits are black men, rather than black women? Maybe someone should ask that question of the commissioner. No doubt, his spokesman Paul Browne — known to readers of this column as in these parts as “Mr. Truth” — will deny that the department keeps those statistics.

The words of former captain and current state Senator Eric Adams, as recorded in this column in 2004, remain as true now, five years later, as they were then.

Kelly, Adams said, “has no confidence in black officers in leadership positions.”


THE ARGENTINE FLING. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s secret Argentinean love jaunt is reminiscent of a similar adventure by former New York City Police Commissioner Ben Ward. While Sanford’s cover up — that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail — lasted about three days, City Hall’s cover up of Ward’s misadventure lasted six months.

On the rainy Palm Sunday night of April 15, 1984, just a few months after Ward’s inauguration, Your Humble Servant was one of many reporters keeping a vigil outside a house in the Brownsville/East New York section of Brooklyn. Earlier that day, 10 women and children inside that house had been shot to death. The killings, drug-related, became known as the Palm Sunday Massacre — at the time the largest mass murder in city history.

Every top police and mayoral official — including Mayor Edward I. Koch and his spokesman Tom Kelly — arrived at the scene. Every top official, that is, except Ward.

When asked about his absence, the department spokeswoman Alice McGillion said Ward had been at his vacation house upstate — unreachable.

Not until six months later did the truth emerge. By then, it had become common knowledge at Police Plaza that Ward was a boozer. At the PBA’s convention that summer, he drank so much that before he stepped inside the police helicopter returning him to headquarters, he urinated on the copter door in front of scores of union delegates.

Had Ward been at his upstate vacation house during the Palm Sunday Massacre, as McGillion claimed, there would have been no reason that the department could not have reached him by telephone — unless he had been in no condition to respond. When asked about this, McGillion blurted out the truth, or at least a sanitized version.

The night of the Massacre, she said, Ward had been “on a holiday on a car trip in his own car visiting various places between Baltimore and Washington. It was social,” she added.

What McGillion selectively omitted was that Ward had been on a three-day bender, traveling with a girlfriend to motels between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.. During those three days, the department had been unable to locate him.

When City Hall was asked about Ward’s absence, Mayor Koch denied that Ward had been unreachable. “You say he was unreachable. We don’t,” declared his spokesman, Kelly. “The mayor didn’t try to reach him,” Kelly added. “He doesn’t believe he [Ward] was unreachable.”

Deputy Mayor Stanley Brezenoff, who was responsible for supervising the police department, took a similar position. He said the department had never notified him that Ward was missing.

Koch and Brezenoff were so convincing that New York Newsday, where Your Humble Servant was then hanging his hat, wavered for a week. “If Koch doesn’t have a problem, why do we?” asked the top editor at that time.

The editor couldn’t hold to his absurd position for too long. The story ran under the understated headline: “For 3 Days, Police Brass sought Ward.”

It began: “Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward was unreachable for three days last spring while his department tried to notify him of the largest mass murder in the city’s history.”

The day the story ran, the cover-up dissolved.

Brezenoff acknowledged Ward “was not as reachable as he should have been.”

Koch acknowledged, “It was something that should not have happened. You should always be in touch if you’re a commissioner — certainly, the police commissioner.”