One Police Plaza

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Who’s the Real Chicken?

January 16, 2012

Rupert Murdoch may have called Governor Andrew Cuomo “chicken” for refusing to take on the city’s teachers’ union. But, judging from his latest State of the City address last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounds like the real chicken for refusing to take on Ray Kelly.

Bloomberg does not appear to be afraid of Kelly. Rather, he seems to be afraid of what he might discover if he demands accountability from his police commissioner.

The mayor has never spoken publicly about Kelly’s lack of transparency regarding the increasing corruption problems that the commissioner seems unwilling or unable to prevent.

Bloomberg’s silence is especially disheartening since one of his early campaign promises was to make the department more transparent than it was in the dark days of his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

In an interview with this reporter in the fall of 2001 when he was running for mayor for the first time, Bloomberg said, “I believe in an open department. Except for certain personnel documents I am a believer in putting all the information out there. The essence of a free society is the right to information.” [See Newsday, One Police Plaza, Sep. 4, 2001.]

Instead, the department under Kelly is now darker and more obscured from outside scrutiny than at any time in modern history.

To ensure that nobody inside the department speaks to anyone on the outside, Kelly in 2006 “dumped” the phones of Brooklyn detectives and disciplined a deputy chief he suspected of talking to a reporter about the murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen.

Worse, some who are privately critical of Kelly’s policies are afraid to say so publicly for fear that he will retaliate against their relatives on the police force. [Readers, this is no exaggeration.]

In that same 2001 interview, Bloomberg said, “My view is that the mayor isn’t the police commissioner. You want a police commissioner to make police decisions. The mayor’s job is to oversee, not to do the commissioner’s job.”

But overseeing means more than merely observing. Overseeing means monitoring. It doesn’t necessarily mean dominating, as Giuliani did, but it does mean supervising.

And Mayor Mike has failed to do that.

By failing to supervise his police commissioner for the past 11 years, Bloomberg has created a localized version of J. Edgar Hoover.

To see how poorly Bloomberg has “overseen” the NYPD, one need only to examine his most recent proposal, announced in his State of the City address.

The mayor’s idea of oversight is to add four lawyers to a toothless mayoral commission that has no subpoena power.

Giuliani formed that commission — the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption — as an afterthought after he had disbanded what had been a permanent outside state corruption monitor. As a federal prosecutor, Giuliani had supported its existence. As mayor, he wanted no part of it.

In 2005, the presidents of the Patrolmen’s and Sergeant’s Benevolent Associations alleged that under Kelly the department was downgrading felonies to misdemeanors so that crime would appear lower than it actually was. The unions also accused the department of sometimes refusing to take victims’ complaints and trying to dissuade others from reporting certain crimes.

Both Kelly and Bloomberg ridiculed those allegations.

But Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor who headed the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, took them seriously and began an investigation.

Kelly, however, refused to turn over documents Pomerantz had requested: internal police audits. Because the commission lacked subpoena power, Pomerantz turned to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg said and did nothing. Pomerantz then resigned.

The issue of downgrading of crimes continued to fester. In 2009, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft, an eight-year veteran assigned to Brooklyn’s 81st precinct, echoed the charges of the two police unions four years before. He alleged that supervisors were manipulating crime statics in his precinct.

On Halloween night of 2009, a police posse, led by a deputy chief, broke into Schoolcraft’s Queens apartment and dragged him, against his will, to Jamaica Hospital, where he was incarcerated in the hospital’s psychiatric ward for six days. He is currently suing the department for $50 million.

Neither Kelly nor Bloomberg has uttered a word about Schoolcraft’s abduction by the police or about his forced incarceration in the hospital psych ward.

In 2010, two academics — retired NYPD captain John Eterno, and former John Jay College professor Eli Silverman — surveyed more than 100 retired captains, inspectors and chiefs who said that “intense pressure to produce annual crime reductions” had led them to manipulate crime statistics city-wide.

Kelly’s spokesman Paul Browne scoffed at the findings, saying that the 100 respondents “may be recalling the same lone incident everyone was talking about when they said they knew of instances when crime reports were manipulated.” Bloomberg said nothing.

Last year, the department charged the commander of the 81st precinct and four other officers with manipulating crime statistics. Although these charges validated Schoolcraft’s claims, neither Kelly nor Bloomberg said a word about him.

To much media fanfare a year ago, Kelly announced the appointment of a three-person commission of former prosecutors to examine the wide-ranging allegations of city-wide crime down-grading. He promised a report within six months.

That deadline passed with no report. In the interim, one of the three members of this commission died.

Tired of waiting, the New York Civil Liberties Union asked for records of the department’s internal audits under the Freedom of Information Law. Kelly turned over audits of other precincts but refused to provide those of the 81st precinct, saying their release would imperil the NYPD’s continuing investigations. No one knows what investigations he means.

The Civil Liberties is now suing for the records in state court.

So much for those four additional lawyers that Bloomberg had promised in his State of the City address.

So much for his past promises of more transparency.

Instead of talking about the police, Mayor Bloomberg spent most of his State of the City address on education and, like that other great educator, Rupert Murdoch, attacked the teacher’s union as the bane of the city’s school problems.

To those of us who watched Murdoch testifying in London before the British commission investigating his newspaper’s hacking scandal, there was something bizarre, if not ludicrous, in seeing, seated behind him, the city’s former school’s chancellor Joel Klein.

The supposedly “transformative” Klein now works for Murdoch and earns nearly $1 million a year. He also blames the teachers’ union for the city’s education problems.

Whatever his interest in education and in calling Governor Cuomo chicken, all you need to know about Mr. Murdoch is that he has never, ever acted out of any interest but his own.

As for Mayor Mike, let him spend a week inside a city public school before blaming teachers for all the complicated social and economic problems that stack the deck against so many of New York’s school kids — and against their teachers.

Fresh from Regis Philbin’s farewell party at Val Bella where he wowed the crowd [which included Ray Kelly], crooning under his stage name Frankie Sands, ex-cop Frank Livoti tried to duplicate his success with a fundraiser for slain officer Peter Figoski.

Unfortunately for Livoti, he ended up taking it on the chin.

Initially, Livoti received positive feedback from cops in the 75th precinct where Figoski served — [possibly because cops there had never heard of him.]

Livoti, you see, served seven years in federal prison for the 1994 death of Anthony Baez, who died of an asthma attack in a fracas that Livoti instigated over a tossed football. The city paid the Baez family $3 million.

Livoti came out of prison unbowed.

A former PBA delegate from the Bronx, he has also tangled [verbally] with PBA president Pat Lynch, most recently over the PBA’s refusal to take a position on the mosque at Ground Zero.

Apparently, PBA bigs put the kibosh on Livoti’s fundraiser.

Neither PBA spokesman Al O’Leary nor PBA attorney Stuart London, whom Livoti contacted to approach the union about his fundraiser offer, returned phone calls seeking comment.

Said Livoti: “I guess they feel I’m still toxic.”


Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt