One Police Plaza

Inspector General: Best Not Good Enough

October 22, 2012

There are many reasons not to create an inspector general to monitor the NYPD. But those offered by Michael Best, counselor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are not good ones.

In fact, contrary to Best’s assertions, a letter from him that appeared last week in the New York Times raisestheissueyetagainofthe Bloomberg administration’s refusal or inability to monitor the police department — i.e. Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Best’s letter begins by saying that the idea of an Inspector General is based on “the flawed premise” that the two independent agencies established to monitor the NYPD are not equipped to do their job.

What is flawed is Best’s thinking. Those two agencies, the Civilian Complaint Review Board [CCRB] and the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Corruption, are not equipped to do anything — unless Kelly approves.

Let’s start with the CCRB, which investigates only low-level police misconduct.

Section 440 of Chapter 18A of the city charter mandates that the police department cooperate with the CCRB by making department officials available for questioning in its investigations.

Kelly, however, cooperates only when he chooses to.

Take the CCRB’s investigation into alleged police abuse regarding the 1,806 arrests and detentions at the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, police actions that are still being litigated.

For 14 months, from the summer of 2004 to December 2005, Kelly forbade his offices from speaking to the board’s investigators, in violation of the city charter. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg said nothing, did nothing.

And what did the CCRB do about Kelly’s non-compliance?

Kelly so intimidated it that when asked about Kelly’s lack of cooperation at a CCRB board meeting in September 2005, its chairman, Hector Gonzalez, refused to answer.

“It should be patently obvious,” said board member William Kuntz at the time. “If the police department were cooperating, wouldn’t we tell you that?” [See NYPD Confidential Sep. 16, 2005.]

Chris Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NY Civil Liberties Union, summed it up at the time: “They’re all afraid of the police department.” [See NYPD Confidential Dec. 16, 2005.]

Now let’s turn to the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption, which lacks subpoena power and which, like the CCRB, is ineffectual.

All you have to know here is what occurred in the spring of 2005 when the commission’s chairman, Mark Pomerantz, sought police records to determine whether the department was systemically downgrading crime reports from felonies to misdemeanors to show that New York was safer than it actually was. The allegation had been made by the heads of both the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants’ unions.

Kelly refused to provide the records. Mayor Bloomberg again said nothing, did nothing.

Three days after he testified at a City Council hearing that his commission was unable to do its job because Kelly refused to cooperate, Pomerantz resigned. [See NYPD Confidential, Apr. 22, 2005.]

As for those downgraded crime reports, Kelly in 2011 announced to great fanfare that he had appointed a committee of three former federal prosecutors to examine whether the department had systemically downgraded crimes.

Six years after rejecting Pomerantz’s request for similar records, Kelly issued a press release and trumpeted that the committee, composed of David Kelley, Sharon McCarthy and Robert Morvillo, would “complete its work over the next six months with the full cooperation of all units in the Police Department.”

“The integrity of our crime reporting system is of the utmost importance to the Department,” the release added.

It’s now nearly two years later. The committee has produced nothing. And Mayor Bloomberg? Again, he has said nothing, done nothing.

Finally, there is Best’s claim in his letter that “New York is the safest big city in the nation.”

That canard, which the Bloomberg administration continues and which regularly can be seen in New York Post editorials, has been around since the days of Rudy Giuliani.

It is categorically and unequivocally false. It is based on misleading FBI statistics that the Bureau itself has disavowed. [See NYPD Confidential, Nov. 18, 2005.]

Bloomberg began boasting of it in 2004, based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for that year. But the FBI report states that the crime index that Bloomberg uses had been discontinued for lack of relevance.

Or as the report said, “In recent years, the crime index ... has not been a true indicator of the degree of criminality.”

Why? Because the crime index gave equal weight to such non-violent crimes as burglary as it did to murder, rape and robbery. “The sheer volume of these offenses,” said the report, “overshadows more serious but less frequently committed offenses.”

While Bloomberg and company totals all these crimes together, a more accurate gauge of safety in any city is purely violent crime, an FBI official explained at the time.

By that standard, New York clearly is not the safest big city in America.

In 30 years, on and off, covering the NYPD, this reporter’s most dispiriting moment came in early 1994 inside the 30th precinct in West Harlem as the first of three dozen arrests occurred during the Dirty Thirty corruption scandal.

A group of officers wearing windbreakers, reading “Internal Affairs” surrounded a slight, young cop in plainclothes, who was one of the 36 cops to be arrested. The Internal Affairs officers did not draw their weapons. They spoke so softly that although I stood just a few feet away I couldn’t hear a word. Then, in what seemed a slow-motion pantomime, the young cop loosed his gun-belt. It fell around his ankles and onto the floor.

Watching that cop, I felt embarrassed not only for him but for the police department. I felt I had witnessed a department humiliation that no civilian should ever see.

Last week outside a Bronx courtroom, I witnessed a similar humiliation.

For two days, Bernard B. Kerik, the NYPD’s 40th police commissioner, testified both tearfully and defiantly, at the perjury trial of two former friends, Frank and Peter DiTommaso. As the world knows Kerik currently resides in a federal prison in Maryland, where he is serving a four-year prison sentence for tax fraud and lying to federal officials during his nomination for Homeland Security Director.

Leaving the courthouse, accompanied by a half dozen guards, Kerik wore a dark blue prison jump suit. His hands were shackled in front of him.

But unlike the cop in the 30th precinct, Kerik showed no sign of embarrassment or humiliation. Instead, surrounded by his keepers, he called out a cheery, “Hey, Len. How are you doing?”


Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt