One Police Plaza

The NYPD's Tricky Ethnic Politics

July 20, 2015

The transfer of Dep. Insp. Fausto Pichardo to head a Bronx precinct just 10 months after he was assigned to the NYPD’s Public Information office as a liaison to the city’s Hispanic media underscores that ethnic politics can be tricky — no less so than in the nation’s largest police department.

Pichardo’s transfer was significant enough to the Hispanic community that the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario noted it, as did the city’s highest-elected Hispanic official, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. A member of her staff called Commissioner Bill Bratton, but Mark-Viverito’s spokesman, declining to elaborate, said that she and Bratton did not speak directly about the matter.

“They never had a Hispanic at that level in DCPI before,” said a former top Hispanic officer, referring to the Public Information office.

Said an officer close to Pichardo: “He was introduced to every Spanish editorial board. He was the go-to guy for everything Latino.”

Complicating the issue is that Pichardo’s Hispanic supporters attribute his transfer to DCPI’s black deputy chief, Kim Royster.

The NYPD line is that Pichardo, who is of Dominican descent and now the commanding officer of the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx, asked out of DCPI so that he would have a better shot at promotion to full Inspector.

The unspoken reason, says a cop close to Pichardo, is that he felt thwarted by Royster in his role as the Latino liaison.

“No one will admit it,” said says the cop, “but everyone knew Fausto was having issues with her. No one helped him because of her political connections.”

In the first of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s police-related missteps, it was Royster whom he called to arrange the release of a political supporter, Bishop Orlando Findlayter of Brooklyn. The bishop had been arrested for two outstanding warrants in February 2014.

Asked whether she had precipitated Pichardo’s transfer, Royster wrote in an email: “I have no idea what you are talking about. Executive transfers and promotions happen all the time in this department. I strongly suggest you do not rely on hearsay or third party information.”

DCPI’s deputy commissioner, Steve Davis, did not return an email seeking comment.

The Pichardo-Royster contretemps appears to be part of a below-the-radar tension between Hispanics and black officers at the NYPD. The percentage of Hispanic officers has risen to nearly 30 percent of the force in the last generation (the second-largest ethnic group after Italians), while the percentage of black officers has remained at about 15 percent in the same time period.

A common complaint of Hispanic officers is that their numbers in the executive ranks above captain — which come about through discretionary promotions — are far smaller than their numbers in the department.

In addition, some Hispanic officers remain troubled by what one described as Bratton’s “broken promises” regarding First Dep. Rafael Pineiro, formerly the department’s highest-ranking Hispanic officer. Despite Bratton’s statement that Pineiro would remain first deputy as long as he was commissioner, Bratton dismissed him 10 months later.

Yet the reaction to his dismissal was muted — in contrast to the furor following the resignation of the department’s highest-ranking black officer, Chief of Department Philip Banks, after Bratton had promoted him to succeed Pineiro.

Of Pichardo, an Hispanic officer close to him noted: “Had his and Royster’s positions been reversed, I can guarantee they would have transferred Fausto. Blacks get what they want in this department. Hispanics don’t.”

. Here is part of an email exchange between Arthur Browne, editorial page editor of the Daily News and retired sergeant Mike Bosak, the NYPD’s official unofficial historian.

In his book, “One Righteous Man,” Browne describes Sam Battle, hired in 1911, as the NYPD’s first African-American officer. Bosak, who specializes in 19th century police history, dug up a NY Times obituary, dated July 8, 1903, of Christopher Givens, which describes him as “the first Negro appointed as a policeman in Brooklyn.”

Browne: Would you please pass on to Retired Sgt. Mike Bosak — and perhaps to your readers — that Christoper Givens was neither the first African-American to break the color line on the Brooklyn force, nor was Givens ever allowed to work as a police officer

In that day, both the Brooklyn and New York forces allowed blacks to serve only as “doormen” — glorified janitors. They were not sent on patrol nor did they have the power of arrest. Both forces had many African-American doormen. They did not break the police color line and the departments were happy to have them serve in menial capacities. "One Righteous Man" explains how the Brooklyn department either drove out the African-Americans who served for a short time as cops or intimidated the rest into serving as doormen. The book's footnotes include all the sources for the information. 

Reflecting the racism of the day, the Times and other papers often referred to black doormen as cops. The Times's one-paragraph item on Givens's retirement, in fact, refers to him as Doorman Christopher Givens, not as Officer Christopher Givens. 

Bosak:  Doorman was a “Uniform rank” on both the Brooklyn and New York Department.  They were sworn in as police officers.

The uniform ranks on both the New York and Brooklyn Departments were doorman, patrolman, roundsman, sergeant, captain, inspector and Superintendent of Police.   Same — same on both departments. …

Doormen were uniformed members of both the Brooklyn and New York Departments.  [And many others too.] They therefore were, under NYS law, defined as police officers, and did have the power to make an arrest.

Whether they used that power or not, is another story.  And doormen were used for transporting people who were arrested to court or a detention facility.  They also did many other odd jobs in and around the station house.

They did not just work inside the station house. …
Last and important.  When the title of doorman was abolished on April 16, 1912, all the doormen were made patrolmen.  And they were all police officers before they were patrolmen.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt