One Police Plaza

Let's Go to the Videotape

February 12, 2018

Is it a war of words, or is a real war simmering between the NYPD and the City Council?

Trouble stems from an immigrant-rights demonstration last month when police arrested Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez. Police say Williams and Rodriguez blocked an ambulance that had been called to take immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir to the hospital after he fainted.

Demonstrators were protesting Ragbir’s impending deportation under President Donald Trump’s stepped-up immigration enforcement.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who had attended the rally, reportedly shouted at a senior police official at the scene: “You people were out of control.” He added, referring to police Commissioner Jim O’Neill: “I want the P.C. to call me now.” 

O’Neill has remained mostly silent as council members have escalated their attacks. Most recently, during a council hearing last week when council members socked it to Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison, former chief of the Strategic Response Group Steve Hughes and Legislative Affairs Director Oleg Chernyavsky, claiming the department is in league with Trump immigration officials.

“A month after the incident, the city council is still holding hearings into the conduct of the officers when they should be looking at the conduct of its own members,” a police source familiar with the situation told NYPD Confidential. Williams and Rodriguez “were shooed away reasonably [from the ambulance] four times. They were the instigators. Now they cry foul,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to directly address the incident.

O’Neill has hesitated to release a videotape of the arrests, which police officials say shows Williams and Rodriguez blocking the ambulance called for Ragbir after he fainted.

“There is extensive video of the incident,” the department said in a statement at the time. “At this point it appears the police were clearing a path for an ambulance with a patient inside that was en route to a hospital. The NYPD was attempting to clear a path for that ambulance, which was purposely and repeatedly being blocked.”

Instead, one of O’Neill’s few public remarks about the incident came at a recent news conference at the 79th Precinct when he said a police officer at the demonstration had been transferred, implying he had acted inappropriately.

As for Ragbir, his case has become a cause celebre in progressive circles. A permanent resident of the United States since 1994, he was convicted of wire fraud in 2000, served a prison term and in 2006 was ordered deported. He was granted a stay that expired last month, which precipitated the demonstration.

Last week, he was granted another stay, pending a federal judge’s review. 

.  Fresh from a $5,600 contribution from Rudy Giuliani — the max under Illinois law — former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy sounds like he’s almost ready to announce a mayoral run in Chicago.

“Polling is done but being collated, I don’t have it yet. Decision not final but looks good,” McCarthy texted over the weekend.

McCarthy, who ran the NYPD’s vaunted COMPSTAT program under Giuliani, left New York in 2006 to head Newark’s police department. In 2011, he was appointed superintendent of Chicago police, selected in part because of his success in helping to lower New York City’s crime rate.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired McCarthy in December 2015 after a court ordered the release of a video that showed a white Chicago cop shooting a black teenager 16 times. Emanuel had held up the release of the video until after the mayoral primary, fearing that it would hurt his re-election chances.

Over the next two years, crime in Chicago skyrocketed — homicides in particular — as police appeared to disengage from the community in the wake of the nation’s narrative of systemic police brutality.

Chicago’s police board announced a nationwide search for a successor to McCarthy but Emanuel, a former congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama, chose Chicago cop Eddie Johnson. One of his first moves was to travel to New York City to observe an NYPD COMPSTAT meeting. Last year, crime fell in Chicago.

Meanwhile, McCarthy and Giuliani have remained in touch. ““Rudy Giuliani has been a friend and a mentor to me for more than 20 years,” McCarthy says. “I was with him on 9/11. He’s the guy who turned New York City in the direction that it’s still going in. Maybe Chicago should pay attention.”

Unlike Giuliani, a Trump-supporting Republican, McCarthy says he’s a lifelong Democrat. If he runs, he’ll oppose Emanuel in a Democratic primary. 


Copyright © 2018 Leonard Levitt