One Police Plaza

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At a Queens Precinct: Protecting the Connected, Forsaking the Honest

August 16, 2010

Welcome to Ray Kelly’s police department, where cops get punished, even if they are in the right, and the connected are protected.

At the 113th Precinct in Queens, a prime example is Captain Matthew Travaglia, the executive officer, who is also a practicing attorney.

It’s not that the department is unaware of his shenanigans.

The NYPD leveled disciplinary charges against him last year for allegedly engaging in off-duty employment without permission, and conducting his law practice while he claimed to be on duty.

On two occasions, while scheduled to perform an 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. tour, he was in Nassau County, “taking part in [a] legal proceeding related to his law practice,” the charges read.

We won’t belabor two other charges — that he used a department vehicle for personal use and, on five separate days, recorded earlier tour start times than he actually worked, receiving 5½ hours of pay to which he was not entitled.

Although the charges were filed against him on May 16, 2009, his law practice appears not to have suffered to date.

Police sources say he now works the 4 P.M. to midnight tour at the precinct, while continuing to maintain his law practice during the day.

How can this be?

What message is sent when the executive officer of a precinct can flaunt department regulations with impunity?

Travaglia didn’t return a phone call at the precinct last week. The precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Kristel Johnson, did not return two phone calls over the past two weeks.

But guess what? It turns out that Travaglia’s father was also a police officer who, it is said, knew a lot of important people, including Thomas Dale, the former borough commander of Queens South, which includes the 113th Precinct, and who is now Chief of Personnel. Dale also didn’t return a phone call.

Travaglia isn’t the only officer in the 113th whom the department has protected.

A year or so ago, a security guard at a local Pathmark apprehended a female officer, claiming she had stolen cosmetics, a la Caroline Giuliani.

The officer was friends with precinct commander Johnson, who drove over to Pathmark and, after raising questions about the security guard’s credibility, persuaded Pathmark officials not to file charges against the officer.

The police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau investigated and placed the officer on modified duty. She was allowed to retire, with her pension.

So much for those in the 113 with friends in high places. What if you have no such friends, like the honest Training and Traffic Safety sergeant who discovered that two rookies had put in for “summons overtime” for a day that they didn’t actually work?

When the sergeant discovered this overtime abuse, he conferred with his lieutenant, and then, the following week, reported the officers to Internal Affairs.

So what happened? Besides charging the two rookies, IAB also charged the sergeant — [That’s right, the sergeant who had reported the abuse] — with failing to supervise the rookies, even though the sergeant had been off-duty the day they pulled their scam.

As if that were not enough, IAB also charged the sergeant with failing to notify IAB immediately.

What message does that send?

Worse for the sergeant, he loved his job and believed in the NYPD’s integrity.

Against the urging of his union attorney, John D’Alessandro, the sergeant— who asked that his name not be used — pleaded guilty and was penalized 45 vacation days.

“He just wanted to get it over with and get back to his job,” a fellow officer explained.

Good luck, sarge. Instead, following his guilty plea, the department transferred him from the 113th to the 23rd Precinct in Upper Manhattan. He then retired.

Finally, the precinct’s Compstat sergeant, who was blamed for failing to process complaint reports from the Port Authority police at JFK airport, which is in the 113th Precinct’s jurisdiction. While the NYPD does not cover the airport with patrol officers, all crimes there merit NYPD complaint reports.

Sources said that, under specific orders from D.I. Johnson, the sergeant, who was the COMPSTAT supervisor, did not immediately input the complaint reports, known as 61s.

The sources said Johnson authorized the delay in posting the reports to make crime appear less serious in her precinct, a common practice these days in the NYPD.

When the lapse was discovered, Johnson blamed the sergeant and had him transferred to the 101 precinct.

Sources describe him as a stand-up guy, who took the improper punishment without complaining.

A year later he was seriously injured while responding to an emotionally disturbed person. He is now on long-term disability.

What message does that send?

That’s Paul Browne, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information. In whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft’s lawsuit against the police department, Browne is accused of accompanying a posse of more than 10 officers to Schoolcraft’s Queens apartment last October.

They forcibly took Schoolcraft to Jamaica Hospital, where he was held against his will for six days in its psychiatric ward.

Neither Browne nor his deputy, Inspector Kim Royster, responded to this column’s first pass, 10 days ago, about whether Browne had indeed been present.

Last Thursday, Your Humble Servant sought out Browne and Royster in the Public Information office. A sergeant said that both were out of the office but that he would relay the question to Browne.

Guess what? No response from Browne.

Remember the broken windows theory? Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Bill Bratton often cited it to justify cracking down on small-time quality of life offenses. The theory held that ignoring such small, unsolved problems, like a building’s broken windows, would lead to bigger problems — violent crime.

Well, down at Police Plaza, the two escalators between the first-floor lobby and the second floor have been out of service for the past year. “Temporarily Closed for Renovations,” the sign reads.

Of course, it’s probably a coincidence that the escalators gave out just as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly forced the city’s police reporters to move from their longtime offices on the second floor, which was known as The Shack.

Kelly ordered them out of the building, saying he needed their space.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg overruled him so the reporters remain on the second floor — but in a different location.

They just can’t use the escalators to get there.


Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt