One Police Plaza

Promoting Your Problem

August 31, 2015

Here’s how racial and ethnic sensitivities affect NYPD policies.

Let's start with Monday's scheduled promotion of Kim Royster to Assistant Chief, making her the highest-ranking black female in department history.

Her promotion follows allegations that as the commanding officer of the department’s Public Information Office — or DCPI — she forced the transfer of a subordinate, Deputy Inspector Fausto Pichardo.

With some fanfare, Pichardo had been assigned to DCPI as a liaison to the city’s Hispanic media — becoming the highest-ranking Hispanic officer ever assigned to the office.

Just 10 months after arriving at DCPI, Pichardo asked to be transferred. The move drew the attention of Dennis Gonzales, president of the department’s Hispanic Society; was noted by the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario; and prompted a call to Bratton from the office of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the city’s highest-elected Hispanic official.

So what was the NYPD supposed to do after the allegations against Royster became public? [See NYPD Confidential July 20, and Aug 3, 2015.] Take no action and risk accusations that the department favors black officers over Hispanics? Or demote Royster for what might well be nothing more than a conflict with a subordinate, and risk accusations that the department favors Hispanic officers over blacks?

Complicating matters is that Royster is one of the department’s few black chiefs and that she is politically connected. It was she — and not NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton — whom City Hall called to inquire about releasing Bishop Orlando Findlayter, a political supporter of Mayor Bill de Blasio who had been arrested in February 2014 on two outstanding warrants. Many at Police Plaza regard her as “untouchable.”

So the department transferred Royster out of DCPI to the Personnel Bureau. But hers was no ordinary transfer. A special position was created for her: coordinator of the department’s stepped-up attempt to recruit more black officers, whose numbers remain at about 15 percent of the force while those of Hispanic officers have soared to nearly 30 percent.

Lest anyone interpret her transfer as a demotion — or even, as they say at Police Plaza, a lateral transfer with a dip — department officials put out the word that Royster’s transfer was actually a promotion, as Monday’s scheduled promotion proved to be.

Then, the department quietly replaced Pichardo with Inspector Eric Pagan, who just happens to be Hispanic. His was also no ordinary transfer. The former commander of the 23rd precinct, Pagan had recently been assigned to Patrol Borough Manhattan. Asked how long he had been at the borough before his transfer to DCPI, Pagan said, “Two or three days.”

“So, you’re Pichardo’s Hispanic successor,” I said to him last week.

“Am I?” he answered.

Pichardo, meanwhile, was transferred from DCPI to the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx, one of the city’s busiest houses, where he is commanding officer.

Although department officials indicated that he, too, would soon be promoted, he is not part of Monday’s promotion ceremonies. At least for now, he remains a deputy inspector.

The additional 50 police officers assigned to Times Square to curb the proliferation of aggressive panhandlers and topless/spray-painted women are supposed to get to know the neighborhood and its denizens.

The number of officers assigned to the area will total about 100 — and they all may want to talk to retired transit cop Helmut Ruppe.

As Chief of Department James O’Neill said in response to a question about Ruppe while announcing the department’s Times Square initiative, he came to know Ruppe as a rookie transit cop in 1983 when O’Neill was assigned to Times Square.

“He was a legend,” said O’Neill. “We were all in awe of him.”

“Big Red,” as Ruppe was called, was a mountain of a man, who before the transit force was absorbed into the NYPD made 1,200 felony arrests, never received a civilian complaint, and was never injured, he says.

“When I had a problem and was outnumbered, I never called 911,” Ruppe said. “The local guys came to my rescue.”

How did Ruppe do it?

“I learned how to talk to people in their language.

“First, I would learn the street peoples’ names and nicknames and put them inside my little note book. Then, after I arrested them, I would buy them lunch and two packs of cigarettes, knowing they would sell the cigarettes for a dollar apiece when while they were in jail. I told the guys that we were friends before you committed crimes and when you come out of jail, we can still be friends. I also told all the bad guys that I am the sheriff of Times and if you screw up, you would be barred from the area for a period of time.”

Or as Ruppe put in the ditty he composed, which he said made him the first white rapper:

“Black is beautiful, tan is grand.
White is the color of the big boss man.
This blue line is not for sale.
I make plenty of money when you go to jail.”

In a recent interview Ruppe added that he offered to go on the Civilian Complaint Review Board. “They told me I was not qualified.”


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt