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October 31, 2011
Other than Ray Kelly, what police commissioner on God’s green earth could keep his job after the avalanche of police scandals in New York City last week?
Eight current and former NYPD cops were charged in federal court with accepting thousands of dollars in cash to smuggle M-16 rifles and handguns into the state.
A narcotics detective on trial in Brooklyn was accused with colleagues of planting drugs or lying under oath. These alleged crimes led to the arrests of eight other officers, the dismissal of hundreds of drug cases and the payouts of more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle false arrests lawsuits.
The 50-bullet salvo of police gunfire that killed Sean Bell, an unarmed black man, was also back in the headlines.
The officers who shot the unarmed Bell and two of his friends, a tragedy resulting in a $7-million taxpayer-funded settlement, testified during departmental trials at Police Plaza.
As if all this wasn’t enough, last Friday, 16 cops were indicted in a Bronx ticket-fixing scheme, which revealed a crooked culture of NYPD favoritism that has apparently existed since the invention of the automobile.
Yet despite these seemingly never-ending scandals, Commissioner Ray Kelly appears able to shield himself from blame. Soon, he’ll be the longest serving police commissioner in city history. He’s already the most powerful, and is considered a possible mayoral candidate for 2013.
Should he choose not to run, there is even the chance he may be reappointed police commissioner. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early front runner, has said that she would be “honored” for him to remain.
So how does Kelly do it? It starts with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
No mayor in recent history has abdicated his responsibilities in supervising the police department and his police commissioner as has Bloomberg.
Despite Bloomberg’s campaign promises and criticism of his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani for lack of departmental transparency, there is less transparency now under Kelly than under Giuliani. Under Mayor Mike, there is also no civilian supervision.
A possible equal to Bloomberg in abdicating mayoral responsibilities was David Dinkins.
He seemed unaware of the department’s bifurcated chain of command at the highest levels, so that when catastrophe struck — in the form of the Crown Heights riots — no one was in command.
Those riots were sparked when a Hasidic driver in a city-sanctioned motorcade escorting the grand rebbe ran a red light and fatally struck a black child. They culminated in the retaliatory stabbing of a Jewish rabbinical student by a black mob. The weak police response cost Dinkins re-election.
Second, there is the compliant media, reflected in the cheerleading editorials of the Daily News. That was the paper with the once-proud motto, to contrast it with the Post, “The City’s Honest Voice.”
That motto is as dead as the dodo.
After the eight cops were indicted for gun-running, the News pooh-poohed their crimes.
“Not to minimize their alleged offenses,” it editorialized, “but it must be noted that the stated crimes did not involve abuse of the badge or misuse of official power.”
The cops, the News continued, “pulled down a grand total of less than $20,000 for essentially serving as deliverymen.” The News called this “chump change.”
“If this is the worst the NYPD has to offer — and there’s been nothing more serious for a while — New Yorkers can count themselves as pretty lucky,” the editorial concluded.
Such nonsense, in place of journalism, apparently stems from the News’ financial decline and its hiring of a second-rate editor in chief.
It is also due to the paper’s post 9/11 swoon, making it unable to report critically about Kelly. The commissioner and Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen have apparently convinced News’s owner, Mortimer Zuckerman, that Kelly is the lone man standing between the city and another terrorist attack.
Meanwhile, Kelly has become an expert at public relations.
He has mastered the method of “stall and deflect” — until the media moves on.
To quell demonstrations after the Sean Bell killing, he asked the Rand Corporation to investigate what he termed “contagious shooting.” The Rand Corporation recommended that the department increase its use of stun guns. Stun guns?
They said nothing about how to prevent contagious shootings.
Also, not a word from them or from Kelly about the NYPD rules that allowed police undercovers to drink at the strip club where Bell and his friends held his bachelor’s party before cops opened fire.
And not a word about the lack of training and oversight that led to the shooting.
Instead, Kelly played his “misdirection” card. He ordered breathalizer tests for all officers who fire their weapons and hit someone. What bearing that has on the Bell shooting, where officers were permitted to drink at the strip club before Bell was shot, remains unanswered.
Nor has Kelly addressed whether those undercover drinking rules need changing.
In fact, Kelly has also become an expert in stonewalling.
Two years ago this Halloween eve, an NYPD posse, led by a deputy chief, arranged for a whistle-blower officer to be forcibly committed to a hospital psychiatric ward. The posse took officer Adrian Schoolcraft from his Queens home to Jamaica Hospital after he had exposed Brooklyn officers who downgraded crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in order to make the 81st precinct, where Schoolcraft worked, appear safer than it actually was.
Kelly has yet to explain why Schoolcraft was forcibly hospitalized. To forestall further questions about the downgrading of crimes, he appointed a high-level committee to investigate the issue. Whatever happened to that committee? Its recommendations are now three months overdue.
More recently, the Associated Press and NYPD Confidential have revealed the NYPD’s pervasive, and possibly illegal, spying on the city’s Muslims, a sweeping operation that infiltrated mosques, schools and students groups. While Kelly has not spoken to this reporter since 2003, he’s also trying the silent treatment on the AP, the world’s largest news organization, by refusing to be interviewed about the spying.
At a news conference in the ticket fixing case, Kelly resurrected the tired police saw about the few bad apples not reflecting all the good cops. He even slipped in the idea that the NYPD was keeping the city safe from terrorism.
Of course, he failed to mention his own management shortcomings, which set the tone for the department, and, some might argue, paved the way for these scandals.
Kelly has frozen out all those who disagree with him, deep-sixed corruption cases against favored officers [particularly in the Intelligence Division], and personally violated NYPD rules that forbid officers from accepting more than $50 in gratuities by pressuring the Police Foundation to foot his dues and meals at the Harvard Club — a tab that by 2009 had reached $30,000.
PBA: IT’S COME NOT SO LONG A WAY. The PBA has come a long way in the decade that Pat Lynch has taken control of the police union. He has put a more professional face on an organization once considered a step removed from an organized crime entity.
Twenty-five years ago, the PBA’s chief counsel was a degenerate gambler, who subsequently went to jail for bribery and extortion. Its chief investigator ended up a corpse at Riker’s Island, having been convicted of bribing witnesses not to testify against cops.
Under Lynch, much has changed. The union now has a legitimate legal team.
After the 41-shot killing of the unarmed Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, the union, fearful of Bronx juries [or nearly as bad, a young black female judge, supposedly selected at random], used its clout to move the trial of the four officers who shot Diallo to Albany. The court’s chief administrator, now the state’s chief judge, then hand-picked a cop-friendly jurist to preside over the trial. The four officers were all acquitted. It was all legal.
Yet what is one to make of the union’s raucous show at Bronx Supreme Court Friday, shouting their displeasure over the indictments of the 16 cops in the ticket-fixing mess — most of them union officials?
PBA members threatened civilians and cursed Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, who brought the charges. Their behavior was reminiscent of another demonstration some 25 years ago against another Bronx DA, Mario Merola. He had prosecuted police officer Stephen Sullivan for the fatal shooting of Eleanor Bumpers after she attacked officers with a 10-inch carving knife when they tried to evict her from her apartment.
Then, thousands of cops demonstrated outside the Bronx County courthouse. PBA President Phil Caruso said to Merola, referring to the Bronx’s largely black residents, “They hate you. And now we hate you too.”
It’s true, in this latest Bronx scandal, that, except for one officer, no cash payoff is alleged in the ticket-fixing indictments. Regardless, cops on the loose, undisciplined and unsupervised, ranting at civilians and prosecutors, are scary. Period.
Maybe the changes that Lynch has brought to the union are merely cosmetic.
ROB AND BOB. DA Johnson and Commissioner Kelly put on a united front at their news conference about the ticket-fixing mess, describing how the DA’s office and the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau worked together.
When Johnson deferred to Kelly, Kelly said, “Thank you, Bob,” even indicating that the two are friends.
Johnson’s friends call him Rob, not Bob.
Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt