One Police Plaza

The NYPD: New Tricks, Old Dog

March 31, 2014

No question about it, there is a “kumbaya” spirit these days at One Police Plaza.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s wife, Rikki Klieman, delivered the keynote address last week at the Policewoman’s Endowment Association’s Women’s History celebration in the department’s first-floor auditorium.

Bratton also spoke last week of the “collegial and collaborative” relationship he hoped to enjoy with new Inspector General Philip Eure, who is to monitor the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices that began under Bratton’s predecessor, Ray Kelly.

Last week, Bratton spoke, too, of his “Re-Engineering, 2014,” which he said focuses on 89 areas the department needs to improve, including training, community affairs, and morale.

But, since returning as commissioner, Bratton has made no mention of an area that perhaps needs the greatest overhaul: the lack of reporters’ access.

Bratton, like Mayor Bill de Blasio, has spoken of the importance of transparency at the NYPD. He went out of his way to allow this reporter to again obtain a press card, which he mentioned at a news conference the day he was sworn-in.

Yet showing your press card doesn’t even guarantee access to the in-house reporters’ offices on the second floor. Or to the public information office on the 13th floor.

As an officer at the security desk in the lobby of Police Plaza recently put it, “The protocol is you have to have an appointment.”

The reporters based at Police Plaza are also restricted. They are allowed only on the second and 13th floors, and on the first floor only during ceremonies or when Bratton holds news conferences.

This is how things were done at Police Plaza for the past decade or so under Kelly, and continue under Bratton.

There was actually a time in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s when reporters and police officers co-existed and respected the jobs each other did.

That changed under Rudy Giuliani, who as mayor also considered himself the city’s de facto police commissioner and regarded the media [and just about everyone else] as his enemy.

When then-Vice President Al Gore tried to present a good-government award to the NYPD in 1998 for its COMPSTAT conferences — at which commanders are grilled by top brass about their crime strategies — Giuliani barred reporters and refused to allow the department to accept the award because he wanted to personally receive it.

Kelly took his distrust of the media [as well as everyone else] to another level.

Sealing off the department from public scrutiny began as an anti-terrorism security measure after 9/11. As Kelly consolidated his power over his 12 years as commissioner, his security concerns devolved into lack of reporters’ access to the department.

In 2006, Kelly took the lack of access a step further. After an apparent leak to the media during the murder investigation of a graduate student, Imette St. Guillen, Kelly ordered an internal investigation, unprecedented in its scope.

At least two dozen detectives, including a deputy chief, inspector and two captains, were questioned under oath by internal affairs investigators about whether they spoke to reporters about the case.

The result: police throughout the department cut off relationships with reporters, some of whom NYPD officials had known for years.

Bratton’s and de Blasio’s words about transparency notwithstanding, Kelly’s practices continue today.

“They make it very difficult for people, particularly reporters, to get in to Police Plaza,” said Murray Weiss, perhaps the city’s longest-serving police reporter and the author of “The Man who Warned America,” a biography of John O’Neil, the FBI’s former head of national security who was killed on 9/11.

“They make it difficult so that you think twice about going there,” Weiss said. “Undoing 12 years in three weeks can’t be done with a snap of Bratton’s fingers,” Weiss said.

“For many cops this was the only administration and philosophy they functioned under. That also goes for the press office, where they have been taught for 12 years to give reporters as little information as possible,” he said.

“It’s like a dog who’s been abused. That dog is not suddenly going to like people.”

Kelly’s boss, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also claimed he favored transparency when he ran for office.

But he seemed to take to the way that Kelly controlled the media. Even at the end of Kelly’s reign when the furor over stop-and-frisk reached its height, his favorable poll numbers among New Yorkers remained high.

Bratton, on the other hand, during his first term under Giuliani, liked to hang out at Elaine’s — the famed Upper East Side restaurant — with his closest advisers, Jack Maple, John Timoney and John Miller, as they mixed it up with reporters [and bad-mouthed Rudy].

But times are different today. Whereas in his first term, Bratton selected virtually all his top staff, under de Blasio his first deputy and chief of department were designated for him. Of that first team, only Miller remains. And there is no Elaine’s.

IRONY OR POETIC JUSTICE? Now that Ray Kelly is to become a commentator on ABC Television, maybe he’ll put in for a press card. Under his own rules, he wouldn’t qualify.


Copyright © 2014 Leonard Levitt