One Police Plaza

Kelly Aura Haunts Bratton's Terrorism Reform

April 28, 2014

Bill Bratton has taken a small but significant step to formally disband a widely acclaimed and equally reviled anti-terrorism program of predecessor Ray Kelly — one the department denied even existed: the Demographics Unit.

Just as Kelly had quietly begun cutting back on stop-and-frisk amid the political furor the program caused, he had also started disbanding the 16-man unit, whose existence was revealed in 2011 by The Associated Press.

By the time Bratton took control of the NYPD earlier this year, the unit — in which plainclothes officers mapped Muslim neighborhoods to identify potential terrorists — was down to three detectives and a sergeant.

“We didn’t disband anything,” said a top NYPD official, referring to the unit. “We only put it out of its misery. The only thing we disbanded was a lie — that it never existed or that it ever worked.”

While the unit was geared more toward gathering information than generating cases, its commander, Chief Thomas Galati, acknowledged in a 2012 federal civil rights lawsuit that it had never generated a single lead nor triggered a single terrorism investigation.

Closing an ineffectual unit should be a no-brainer. Nonetheless, Bratton’s announcement that he was disbanding it created a furor among those who back Kelly and his counter-terrorism policies.

After the New York Times broke the story, the News, the Post and the Wall Street Journal praised Kelly and criticized Bratton’s decision to close the unit.

“The commish cops out,” read the headline of a New York Post editorial; another Post editorial  called the unit “a vital anti-terror program.”

In its editorial headlined “NYPD Blind,” The Wall Street Journal quoted Kelly’s former director of intelligence analysis, Mitchell Silber, saying the unit was “critical in identifying” an Islamic bookstore in Brooklyn “as a venue for radicalization.

“Information the unit collected about the store provided a predicate for an investigation that thwarted a 2004 subway plot against the Herald Square subway station,” Silber said.

Referring to the Demographics Unit, the Daily News headlined an Op-Ed piece: “NYPD’s ‘Muslim Mapping’ Saved Lives.” It was written by Kelly’s former spokesman Paul Browne, now a vice president at Notre Dame, who at one time denied the unit existed.

But a former FBI agent, Don Borelli, who had been in charge of the New York office of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, took the unusual law enforcement step of going public, maintaining that the Demographics Unit failed to detect the most serious terrorism threat to the city since 9/11 — the subway bombing plot of the Denver-based Al Qaeda operative Najibullah Zazi.

In the Daily News last week, he wrote that the Demographics Unit had kept files on Zazi’s neighborhood in Flushing, Queens, where he had grown up while he was becoming radicalized.

The unit, he wrote, kept files on local businesses and “even visited the travel agency where Zazi bought his ticket to Afghanistan for terrorism training.”

So, Borelli asked, “why wasn’t Zazi identified until he was driving to New York to blow up the subways from Denver? Because the program was ineffective. The mission was to spot the terrorist in the haystack but again and again it failed to do so.”

Borelli pointed out that Galati admitted in his deposition that certain Muslim establishments would be visited on multiple occasions — “not because they were hotbeds of terrorism, but because the food was good. In essence, New York City taxpayers were paying for good falafel, not good information.”

FOURTH TIME A CHARM? NYPD Confidential offers our heartiest congratulations to Staten Island Deputy Chief Mike Marino on what looks like his marriage last week to Sgt. Amanda Palmenta.

Marino, 56, and Palmenta, 37, were photographed in wedding outfits in Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with Palmenta’s 7-year-old daughter from her former marriage to retired Sgt. Manny DaSilva.

Apparently, Marino’s divorce from his third wife, retired NYPD Sgt. Sandra Arroyo, has become official.

Marino’s marriage to Palmenta might offer a clue as to why a patrol car was posted outside their Staten Island home during the week they were in Florida. Perhaps this was a wedding present, an indication that she has married a very powerful guy.


Copyright © 2014 Leonard Levitt