One Police Plaza

A Policeman's Lot

November 23, 2015

“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one,” Gilbert and Sullivan wrote 150 years ago. NYPD’s James Secreto and Diana Pizzuti would probably agree.

Secreto, the three-star chief of housing, and Pizzuti, a two-star assistant chief, were picked up on an audit by Comptroller Scott Stringer. The comptroller was looking into lavish spending by Thomas Galante, who was recently ousted as Queens Library president.

The audit revealed that during their previous commands in Queens — Secreto as borough commander of Queens South, Pizzuti of Queens North — Galante bought them dinners at high-end steak joints.

The problem is the NYPD Patrol Guide forbids officers — ordinary cops and chiefs alike — from accepting gratuities of more than $50. As a result, Secreto and Pizzuti have been the subject of a disparaging story in the Daily News and are under investigation by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.

No less than fighting crime, corruption — whether freebies or payoffs — has been an integral part of the NYPD’s history. The Patrol Guide’s $50 figure is believed to have resulted from the Knapp Commission of the early ’70s, which revealed systemic payoffs in the department, even in the police commissioner’s office.

Freebies continue to be a tricky subject. Besides Secreto and Pizzuti, department sources say Galante feted numerous chiefs and inspectors now retired. Still, top police officials say commanders can be justified when in their official capacity they attend expensive dinners hosted by community groups. They add that precinct commanders host similar groups, laying out their money for such spreads as bagels, coffee and doughnuts.

Former Commissioner Ray Kelly prevailed on the nonprofit Police Foundation, for instance, to issue credit cards for all precinct commanders with a small monthly max of about $100.

Kelly also prevailed on the foundation to pay for his meals, expenses and $1,500 annual membership at the Harvard Club. By the time the practice was revealed in this column in 2010, the figure totaled $30,000. Kelly was forced to amend his financial disclosure forms with the Conflicts of Interest Board but was not required to make reimbursement.

Kelly was hardly the first police commissioner to bump up against the board regarding freebies. In 2000, the board rebuked Howard Safir for accepting a free trip from the Revlon Corp. to the 1999 Academy Awards in Hollywood. Safir was forced to repay the trip’s cost — $7,000.

Four years before that, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani called on the board to investigate whether then-Commissioner Bill Bratton had a conflict of interest in accepting a $350,000 advance from Random House to write a book, “Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic.” 

No doubt Giuliani was stirred by Bratton’s lawyer-agent, Ed Hays, who described Bratton as “the most significant law enforcement leader of our time and perhaps the 20th century. He’s bigger than J. Edgar Hoover.” Giuliani forced Bratton to resign before the board came to a decision.

Then there was Bernie Kerik, who accepted so many freebies, the feds marched him off to federal prison.

So what will happen to Secreto and Pizzuti for accepting those free dinners from Galante? Probably not much more than a fine or reimbursement for the cost of their meals. Bratton needs the popular and well-respected Secreto, one of his few black chiefs. Pizzuti, one of the department’s few female chiefs, could find cover under his umbrella.

Many in the department feel that police officers are victims of a double standard, which does not apply to city officials. Take Stringer. The conflicts board doesn’t seem to have taken an interest in allegations, reported last year in the NY Post, that the Comptroller ordered his police detail to chauffeur his wife to work, as well as to a wedding in Boston.

Supposedly, so long as Stringer accompanies her, it is considered city business.


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt