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No Place for Isaac Newton in the NYPD

July 18, 2011

Loyalty in the NYPD defies gravity. It usually runs upwards.

Many NYPD bosses act like dictators or Roman emperors. They demand loyalty from subordinates but feel they owe them nothing in return.

Even if your father-in-law is a former deputy commissioner and friend of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, you are doomed to perdition if you violate this misguided and unwritten dictum.

That’s the lesson from the case of Lieutenant Daniel Fisch, whose NYPD career crashed when he asked for a transfer from the Intelligence Division, where he supervised a super-secret unit.

Fisch, a 19-year veteran, joined Intel three months after 9/11. Brash and aggressive, he managed a clandestine group, known as the Technical Operations Unit, which tailed terrorism suspects.

A training course he created — which included mobile phone, foot, camera, video and GPS surveillance — has been given to more than 1,000 officers, sources in Intel say.

Fisch also became known for his officer safety bulletins.

These short, two- or three-paragraph bulletins with pictures and captions offered various crime-fighting tips, like spotting concealed weapons and identifying gang members. A bandana in the right pocket, for example, indicates the wearer belongs to the Bloods. [See some examples of these bulletins in the box at the bottom of this column.]

The bulletins, which reached an estimated 2,000 people, were originally sent to rookie impact cops in high-crime areas, but were read by top chiefs and officials in other law enforcement agencies, like the FBI and MTA.

But for reasons that remain unclear, Fisch ran afoul of Cohen, a former top CIA official, whom Kelly hired after 9/11.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his difficult personality, Cohen created many of the department’s anti-terror strategies. At the same time, morale at the Intel sank so low that an Intel Christmas party was canceled because officers refused to attend. Cohen insisted the Christmas party be held anyway. It was —in January, if you can believe it.

Intel sources say that Cohen reneged on his promise to support Fisch’s promotion to special assignment or detective commander, which would have given him a bump in salary.

Despite Cohen’s promises, Fisch discovered that Cohen had never submitted his name for promotion.

Equally upsetting to Fisch, Intel sources say, was the reason an Intel inspector gave him. This inspector said Cohen had described Fisch as “a rich Jew who doesn’t need the money.”

Jews of Cohen’s generation in law enforcement often play down their Jewish heritage. The legendary Chief of Detectives Al Seedman, for example, was admiringly described as “more Irish than the Irish.”

Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir, whose parents were Jewish, only reluctantly joineda Jewish fraternal organization at the Fire Department when he was Fire Commissioner.

Cohen did not return a phone call seeking comment. Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne did not respond to an email, asking about Cohen’s reputed remark. Fisch declined comment.

But Cohen’s reputed remark that Fisch “doesn’t need the money,” appeared to be directed at Fisch’s father-in-law, Stephen Hammerman, a former Wall Street attorney, who after 9/11 gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary to join the NYPD as Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs.

So well-regarded is Hammerman that, when Kelly tapped him for the job, Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a news conference to announce the appointment.

Intel sources say that Hammerman’s reputation as a straight-shooter is one reason Fisch never asked his father-in-law for help with his stalled promotion.

Instead, in 2009, when Fisch learned that Cohen had not put him in for a promotion, he requested a transfer.

Cohen denied it. According to Intel sources, he told Fisch, “You’re not going anywhere.”

“A lot of bosses when someone wants to leave, they take it as an insult,” a retired chief explained. “It’s a loyalty thing.

“When I worked for a three-star chief, other chiefs asked me to work for them but the chief I worked for told me to stay with him. I did but he never did anything for me. Finally, the police commissioner asked me to work for him. I took that job. I said to myself, ‘Who would I rather be pissed off at me?’”

While that chief thrived, Jim McShane, another retired chief who remained loyal to his boss, did not make out so well.

In 1996, he organized the retirement dinner at the Hilton Hotel for former First Deputy John Timoney. Timoney quit the NYPD after being passed over for police commissioner and derided the mayor’s choice, Safir, as a “lightweight.”

The result: Safir transferred McShane, then an inspector, to an obscure traffic enforcement unit, where he was buried so deep that the phone rang 35 times before anyone picked it up.

He remained there for the next four years.

When Kelly returned as commissioner, he promoted McShane to deputy chief. Not that Kelly loved McShane, as evidenced by the 30 seconds he spent at McShane’s retirement party a few years later.

Rather, Kelly enjoyed promoting guys who had upset former Mayor Rudy Giuliani or anybody close to him, like Safir. Kelly, who has been described both as a dictator and an emperor, has never forgiven Giuliani for firing him in 1994 and replacing him with Bill Bratton.

As for Fisch, when Cohen rejected his transfer, he took the step he had avoided during his failed attempts at promotion. He spoke to his father-in-law, who intervened on his son-in-law’s behalf, contacting Kelly, sources said.

“He’s a great son-in-law, father and husband,” Hammerman said of Fisch.” But I can’t get involved in any of that [departmental] stuff.”

Fisch got his transfer — to the Transit Division, which is considered a step beneath Intel in the NYPD pecking order.

But Fisch’s troubles only worsened. As an Intel source told this reporter: “He [Hammerman] went to Kelly to make sure that his son-in-law didn't get screwed but it didn't work. He got screwed.”

Last year Fisch, who is an Orthodox Jew, was denied time off for the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

More recently he was ordered back to work despite a back injury and surgery that had laid him flat.

At Transit, he was initially permitted to continue his safety bulletins as long as he wrote them on his own time.

Then, when he submitted a posting to the Intel’s intranet, he saw his name had been removed.

Two months ago, a captain from Intel Inspections threatened him with suspension if he continued to write the bulletins.

A colleague said, “This was done under the direction of Cohen to punish Lt. Fisch for embarrassing him with Commissioner Kelly for requesting a transfer back to Patrol.

“Cohen dirtied up Fisch’s reputation so bad that no units on the job will ever pick him up.

“Poor Fisch for trying to help keep the citizens of New York and officers with the NYPD safe. The fool wasted seven years of his life chasing the promotion carrot that he was never going to get.”

Some Examples of Lt. Fisch's Officer Safety Bulletins

Listed by Date: 5/26/11, 5/25/11, 5/8/11, 5/1/11, 4/4/11, 2/22/11, 2/16/11, 2/8/11, 1/17/11


Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt