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No Longer God

July 19, 2010

Here are eight lessons from Ray Kelly’s databank.

LESSON 1. KELLY IS NO LONGER GOD. Governor David Paterson’s decision to scrap Kelly’s databank of people not arrested in police stop-and-frisks is his first public smack-down in eight years as police commissioner.

True, Kelly has received a couple of “bitch-slaps,” as they are called in the police department. In Feb. 2003, after police arrested 274 anti-war protestors, the Civil Liberties Union shamed Kelly into purging the department’s “Demonstration Debriefing Form” databank. That databank had listed the protestors’ names, the names of their friends, their political affiliations, schools they had attended, organizations they belonged to, their opinions about Israel and Palestine, and their whereabouts on 9/11.

Detectives had questioned the protestors in their prison cells. Kelly, a non-practicing lawyer, called the questioning “debriefings” and “part of the arrest process” — provoking a chortle from federal judge Charles Haight. The episode led Haight to reinstate tighter restrictions on the department’s spying on political groups. But Haight’s courtroom language was so florid and convoluted few could understand what he meant.

In vetoing Kelly’s stop-and-frisk databank, Paterson not only humiliated Kelly, but sounded like Abraham Lincoln: “There is a principle — which is compatible with the presumption of innocence, and is deeply ingrained in our sense of justice — that individuals wrongly accused of a crime should suffer neither stigma nor adverse consequences by virtue of an arrest or criminal accusation not resulting in conviction.”

LESSON 2. DON’T COUNT OUT THE CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION. It recently took it on the chin when a federal appeals panel overruled two lower court judges and declared the NYPD’s internal spying documents on political protestors off-limits to public scrutiny. But its bond with the New York Times and other liberal groups remains formidable.

As it did in 2003 with the Demonstration Debriefing Form, it provided raw data to the Times, this time about the department’s nearly three million documented stop-and-frisks since 2003. More than 88 per cent of the stops never led to an arrest or a summons, the data showed. And 90 per cent of those stopped were non-white.

LESSON 3. NOTHING AND NOBODY CAN TOP THE NEW YORK TIMES. Although it appears to hibernate for part of the year, there is nothing more dangerous to a politician or a police commissioner than an awakened New York Times.

The Times took the Civil Liberties Union data, provided the computerized expertise, and then revealed that, in a largely black, eight-block area of Brownsville in Brooklyn, police officers made an average of 93 stops a year for every 100 residents. Men, ages 15 to 34, were stopped an average of five times a year.

If just that factoid appears in the Times, and you are Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, you’ve got a problem.

LESSON 4. KELLY’S CREDIBILITY IS A DONUT HOLE. For the first time in eight years, people are questioning Kelly’s credibility. In fighting crime, a former top NYPD official says, “The databank makes no sense. Why does he [Kelly] want to keep them [the data] forever when they [suspects] lose their value pretty quickly. They’re like perfume. Someone in the databank five years ago is no help to anyone.”

In an apparently desperate second meeting with Paterson, Kelly brought summaries of 170 cases — including 17 murders, 36 robberies and eight sex crimes — that he said the databank was instrumental in solving. Here is the Times’ description of Kelly’s claims:

“In many of the cases, however, the summaries provide strong evidence that the stop-and-frisk data played a less than essential role — and sometimes hardly any role at all.”

The Times then dismissed a Kelly summary in which he argued that the databank was key to solving a murder in Brownsville on June 4, where a man leapt from a car in broad daylight and fired gunshots into a van, killing the driver. After witnesses provided the suspect’s name, police, using stop-and-frisk data, found that he had been stopped nearby two days earlier.

The Times: “But in the next sentence, the summary states, ‘Computer checks on the name further revealed a violent criminal history with an address in Brownsville…. Though the governor did not refer to this case specifically, it was one of many examples in Mr. Kelly’s summary where it was hard to see how the database played a ‘breakthrough role.’”

LESSON 5. BEWARE THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. Kelly’s databank appears to be the end result of two departmental reforms resulting from the fatal 1999 shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo by four cops from the infamous Street Crime Unit. The elite plainclothes unit, which was said to be responsible for removing half the guns from city streets, prided itself on peaceably stopping and frisking people to remove their weapons — until one of them mistook Diallo for a gunman. His three partners piled on, killing Diallo in a barrage of 41 shots.

Reacting to political pressure, Police Commissioner Howard Safir forced the unit to work in uniform, stripping it of its effectiveness. In 2002, in one of his first acts as commissioner, Kelly disbanded the unit entirely. Since then, he has, in effect, made all uniformed officers Street Crime cops.

LESSON 6. REVENGE IS A DISH BEST EATEN COLD. Check out the picture in Saturday’s Times of Gov. Paterson, after signing the bill, with six people standing behind him. Who’s that bald guy in the pinstriped suit with a tooth-eating grin, his left hand around the governor’s shoulder?

Why, it’s former police captain turned State Senator Eric Adams, whom Kelly slapped with disciplinary charges the day after Adams filed for retirement in 2006. Kelly was extracting revenge for allegations Adams had made on TV during the mayoral election six months before: that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had used a terrorism scare to cancel a debate with his mayoral opponent, Fernando Ferrer.

Although a 1999 federal court decision upheld an officer’s right to criticize NYPD policies provided he reveals no confidential department information, Kelly charged Adams with appearing on television without permission, divulging official department business without authority, and disseminating incorrect information to the public. He docked Adams 30 days pay.

Now, four years later, Adams is positioning himself as a mayoral candidate. Just think: a year or so ago, Kelly was also positioning himself as a mayoral candidate — until Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him and ran for a third term.

LESSON 7. THERE’S GOT TO BE MORE TO THIS. If Kelly could not provide convincing evidence that his stop-and-frisk databank helps reduce crime, why was he so insistent on keeping it? Could it be that the databank overlaps with the Intelligence Division’s methods of identifying suspected terrorists? Could all those rookie cops, under the subterfuge of stop-and-frisk, be taking down the names of people in Muslim areas in Intel’s search for terrorists? God only knows what violations of peoples’ rights could be occurring.

LESSON 8. THE A.W.O.L. REV. Although the city’s loudest racial provocateur praised Paterson’s “courage” for signing the stop-and-frisk bill, Al Sharpton was silent and invisible during this entire brouhaha. He most likely can be found in Bloomberg’s pocket. And he sure must enjoy eating grits with Kelly.

Wanted: Person to succeed veteran NY Post reporter Murray Weiss. Qualifications: Must provide access to Kelly, and write favorably about the department.

Suggestion from Your Humble Servant after Judith Miller said she was too busy for the job: Heather Mac Donald, Yale summa cum laude and Stanford Law School graduate, who has become the Manhattan Institute’s La Pasionaria of the Right. [La Pasionaria was the name of Dolores Ibárruri, the Spanish Civil War’s Republican and Communist leader.]

Ms. Mac Donald’s gracious reply: “Thank you for your inquiry. That’s a loss for New York. I couldn’t possibly step into Murray Weiss’s shoes.”


Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt