One Police Plaza

The NYPD: Changes and Challenges

December 19, 2016

This year has been an eventful one for the NYPD, with changes both in personnel and policy.

1.A new commissioner. The appointment of James O’Neill to lead the department is significant because, unlike his two immediate predecessors, Ray Kelly and Bill Bratton, he is the NYPD’s first commissioner in 15 years without a national reputation or celebrity status.

That designation has plusses and minuses. As a neophyte, O’Neill lacks the ego and demanding personality that Kelly used to bully people into granting him perks and power to the detriment of the NYPD’s integrity. Case in point: Kelly usurped control of the nonprofit Police Foundation, which paid nearly $40,000 toward his dues and entertainment at the Harvard Club and nearly $500,000 for consultant Hamilton South to burnish Kelly’s image when he considered running for mayor in 2009. Mayor Michael Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him by deciding to run for a third term. Is there a connection between Kelly’s freebies and those provided to a dozen chiefs and inspectors who were forced to retire earlier this year amid a federal corruption probe?

Bratton, who was more subtle than Kelly, finessed the foundation into paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to his favorite consultants, John Linder and Robert Wasserman, whose contract was recently ended. With an assist from the foundation and Deputy Commissioner Larry Byrne, Bratton also orchestrated what turned into a $175,000 no-show city job for Beth Correia, a Bratton lawyer friend from Los Angeles, where he previously served as police chief.

O’Neill’s toughest challenge now is to navigate a non-political course for the NYPD and deflect the smothering embrace of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is running for re-election. It’s no overstatement to say that the mayor is distrusted throughout the department. Despite providing funds to hire nearly 1,300 new officers, he seems unable to overcome his anti-police rep. Case in point: his public cheerleading after O’Neill disciplined a white sergeant who fatally shot a mentally disturbed black woman who police say attacked him with a baseball bat. O’Neill acted before the department had completed its internal investigation. While he said simply and accurately that the department had “failed” this woman, the mayor upped the political ante, exclaiming that the woman “should be alive right now, period.”

2. New police climate. For the past two decades, the media had portrayed the police as heroes: under Bratton for drastically cutting the city’s high crime rate with his “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” policing; and under Kelly with his stop-and-frisk policy, targeting young black males, and his pervasive spying on Muslims in search of terrorists.

Now, however, Bratton’s policies are criticized for leading to the incarceration of a swath of black New Yorkers. Kelly’s stop-and-frisk was declared unconstitutional. His anti-terrorism surveillance of Muslims has been revealed as producing few if any arrests of consequence.

3. Crime rate. Overall crime, which started falling under Kelly in 1993, continued its downward trend at greater speed under Bratton in 1994 and has been falling since. For de Blasio to get re-elected, he needs the department to keep it that way.

BERNIE’S WAY. “We are looking for a writer to work with a high-profile law enforcement leader on a police procedural based loosely on his life … The client is a former police officer of a big city department, and federal national security officer. He is now a commentator/pundit. …The client is looking to write a fast-paced novel that uses some of his own experiences from his time as a cop to tell the story.”

This pitch comes from an outfit called Gotham Ghostwriters, whose head, Dan Gerstein, declined to comment.

So who’s the cop? Ray Kelly? Howard Safir?

Nope, it’s Bernie Kerik, who since returning to civilian life after four years in federal prison is casting about for a new career. However one feels about Kerik, he’s got plenty to write about. Indeed,. He’s already written two books, one an autobiography in which he claimed his mother was a prostitute; a second about prison, which he knows both as jailer [He served as the city’s Corrections Commissioner] and inmate.

Then, there’s his derring-do as an undercover and his tours in the Middle East, the last one in Iraq under President George W. Bush as the coalition’s interior minister. There’s also his bizarre band of brothers, such as the souped-up Jersey sheriff and small-town police chief Jerry Speziale and Kerik’s top aide at the NYPD, John Picciano, who’s been on the lam the past few years, avoiding creditors.

Finally, there’s his affair with his glamorous publisher, Judith Regan, which ended so bitterly she exposed his philandering in a penthouse apartment overlooking Ground Zero offered to him by the real estate moguls, Howard and Edward Milstein in the weeks after 9/11.


Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt