One Police Plaza

Espo: The Good Soldier

June 30, 3014

Former Chief of Department Joe Esposito has been appointed to head the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

“He’s been a legend for a long time in the NYPD,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in announcing Espo’s appointment last week.

Fair enough. Espo served as Chief of Department for 13 years, probably longer than anyone in NYPD history. He is the quintessential good soldier.

He was at Ground Zero the day the planes struck.

He put up with former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly for 10 years, testifying at the Stop and Frisk trial because Kelly refused to appear himself.

He was also considered the department’s moderate voice. [Well, everything is relative.]

When Chief Thomas Galati of the Intelligence Division, on orders from his boss David Cohen, held up the Iranian delegation to the U.N. for a weapons check at Kennedy Airport, infuriating the Port Authority Police, the Secret Service and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, it was to Esposito that officials of those agencies turned to get Galati to back off.

Now he’s taking over at OEM, an agency founded to coordinate disaster responses that literally went up in smoke.

Started by Rudy Giuliani in 1996, its first headquarters, on the 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, shortly after the two planes struck the twin towers.

Who knows where it is now housed? [Answer: 165 Cadman Plaza East in Brooklyn.]

Does anyone in the city know who its previous commissioner was? [Answer: Joe Bruno.] Or what he did?

Poor Bruno. Although he served for 12 years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he was literally shunted aside by Kelly, with the police department usurping the role of other first responders.

While Esposito may well be the most qualified person to head OEM in the entire burg, he probably had some help from his Brooklyn constituency of Orthodox Jews, who have allies in the de Blasio administration.

Appointing Espo to OEM does something else for de Blasio. Let’s say Bratton leaves after a year or two. If de Blasio feels that the current Chief of Department, Phil Banks — believed by some to be Bratton’s heir apparent — is not quite ready for prime time, what better interim choice could he make than Joe Esposito?

. Bill Bratton’s academic guru, George Kelling, who wandered the subways late at night, says transit cops should partner with social workers to help people who are addicted and/or mentally ill who have made the subways their home.

Cops as social workers? That’s rich. Or as another of Bratton’s gurus, the late great former transit lieutenant Jack Maple might have put it: “How scrumptious.”

The term “social work” has a negative connotation around the NYPD. Bratton used the term pejoratively in his first turn as commissioner, provoking a dispute between him his predecessor, Kelly, which has continued for 20 years.

Beginning their so-called “zero tolerance” of crime policy, Bratton and his boss Rudy Giuliani sought to discredit the policing policies of the previous David Dinkins administration. They seized on Dinkins’s innovative “community policing” policy and criticized it as “social work.”

This so infuriated Kelly that he charged that taking credit for the city’s crime reductions, as Bratton and Giuliani did, was like “taking credit for an eclipse.”

“You can probably shut down just about all crime if you are willing to burn down the village to save it,” Kelly told Time Magazine in 1996 when Bratton’s mug appeared on its cover. “Eventually I think there will be a backlash, and crime will go back up. But by then Bill might be gone.”

Well, the NYPD’s wheel of fortune goes round and round. Bratton did go. And in 2002, Kelly returned. He forgot he’d ever heard the term “community policing.” Instead, he proved to be tougher on crime than Bratton and Giuliani, in effect burning down the village with his Stop and Frisk policy.

Just as he had predicted, this caused a backlash, leading to de Blasio’s election, and, as the wheel turned again, to Bratton’s return.

How ironic now that the Bratton crew is talking about social work. This at the same time that mayhem is seemingly on the rise around the city — two men killed and 14 people, including a 10-year-old boy, wounded in a wave of gun violence over the weekend.

More than 40 years after Police Officer Philip Cardillo was shot and killed inside a Harlem Mosque after he and four other officers responded to a bogus 911 call, some in the police department — and at the New York Post — still don’t get it.

After the shooting, on April, 14,1972, inside the Nation of Islam Mosque Number 7 at 102 West116th Street, many in the NYPD blamed then Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs Benjamin Ward for releasing 16 Muslim suspects before they could be questioned.

Many believe that their premature release, to contain an impending race riot brewing outside the mosque following the shooting, is the reason nobody has been convicted of Cardillo’s murder.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association was so furious at Ward that its then president, Robert McKiernan, declared in its official publication Front and Center that Ward “should either resign or be fired.”

Last week the Post reported that the NYPD is planning to name the library at its new Police Academy after Ward, who in 1984 became the city’s first black police commissioner — “infuriating some retired cops,” as the Post story put it.

According to the Post, Ward had “ordered white cops to leave the mosque at the height of the disturbance, witnesses have said. Then, after 16 suspects were briefly detained, he arranged for them to be let go.”

Omitted from the story is the fact that it was not Ward but then Chief of Detectives Al Seedman who ordered the 16 suspects released.

This was first reported in 1983, 11 years after the shooting, with the discovery of a long-hidden, secret police document, known as the Blue Book, which was the department’s internal investigation of the incident.

Seedman retired two weeks after the mosque shooting. When questioned about the Blue Book in 1983, Seedman acknowledged he had given the order to release the suspects.

Asked why he hadn’t owned up to it earlier and allowed Ward to twist in the wind for 11 years, he answered, “What good would it have done?”


Copyright © 2014 Leonard Levitt