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The NYPD Flip-Flop

December 16, 2005

After flouting the law for the past 16 months, the police department has done an about-face and begun cooperating with the Civilian Complaint Review Board about complaints of police misconduct at the Republican National Convention.

The policy reversal was disclosed at Wednesday’s CCRB monthly board meeting by Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union and acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, by CCRB board chairman Hector Gonzalez, who said the CCRB had recently interviewed top-level officers. One of them, said Dunn, was a chief who is the subject of a complaint.

Since the summer of 2004, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had refused to permit the CCRB to interview top supervisory officers assigned to the convention. This violated Section 440 of Chapter 18A of the city charter, which states that "the police commissioner shall ensure that officers and employees of the police department appear before or respond to inquiries of the board and its civilian investigators in connection with the investigation of complaints…."

On Wednesday, Dunn criticized Gonzalez for not disclosing to the public what Dunn termed the department’s "significant" policy shift and the CCRB’s "breakthrough."

"They’re all afraid of the police department," Dunn said of Gonzalez and other CCRB board members after the meeting.

And they are not alone.

Running for mayor in 2001, Michael Bloomberg promised a more "transparent" police department than had existed under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who controlled the department and the information it released to the public. Instead, Bloomberg has deferred to Kelly in all police matters, making him the most powerful police commissioner in recent city history.

Meanwhile, the department has become less transparent than even under Giuliani.

Besides the CCRB, Kelly has refused to cooperate with the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption. Its chairman, Mark Pomerantz, resigned last year, saying Kelly failed to supply crime statistics, which the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch had charged were being downgraded to portray crime as declining when the opposite was true.

Bloomberg – under whose name the commission operates – played deaf, dumb and blind.

Under Pomerantz’s successor, Michael Armstrong, the department has continued to stonewall, says a knowledgeable official. "There is zero progress," the official said. The commission is "still in discussions with the department over the extent of the commission’s jurisdiction." To date it has issued no report on that subject.

The public – i.e., the media – has shown scant interest in exploring these issues. [See next item.]. In part, this is because the city’s murder rate continues to fall, in part because of Kelly’s and Bloomberg’s relentless public relations offensives, which culminated with Kelly’s and Bloomberg’s election-year claim that New York is the nation’s safest largest city. Their claim was based on the FBI’s annual Crime Index, which the bureau discontinued because, it said, the statistics were misleading.

So why the sudden change in Kelly’s position regarding the 2004 Republican convention, which resulted in 1806 arrests but not one felony conviction?

Was it because of a recent mention in this column that Bloomberg was allowing Kelly to break the law? More likely, as Dunn suggests, with only two months to go before the statute of limitations expires, the CCRB may not have enough time to complete its investigations.

Is The Vicar For Real? After Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Robert Straus ripped police department tactics that led officer Bryan Conroy to fatally shoot the unarmed African immigrant Ousmane Zongo, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul [The Vicar] Browne told reporters the department had not yet determined whether supervisory lapses led to Zongo’s death. The reason The Vicar Browne gave for the department’s indecision: the Manhattan District Attorney asked the police department to halt its investigation during Conroy’s trial, which concluded last week.

Now let’s see. Zongo’s shooting occurred on May 23, 2003. That’s a year and a half ago. Is The Vicar suggesting the department couldn’t figure out in all that time what went wrong during the raid at the Chelsea warehouse? Was it unable to determine whose bright idea it was to dress Conroy up as a postman so that when he drew his gun, the unfortunate Zongo perhaps thought Conroy was going to rob him and fled? [We can only hope that Commissioner Kelly is quicker to respond to lapses in national security vis-à-vis terrorism.]

Browne also noted that the department had already changed some policies in the aftermath of Zongo’s shooting, though he did not specify what they were.

Contrast his lack of disclosure with the response of former commissioner Benjamin Ward, a man Kelly professes to admire, to the fatal shooting two decades ago of Eleanor Bumpers, who was shot by police during her apartment eviction after she attacked them with a knife.

Not only did Ward announce a policy change well before the trial of Stephen Sullivan, the officer who shot Bumpers, but Ward made public what those changes were.

One can only shudder at the city’s liability if, God forbid, a similar incident occurred, whether in the Bumpers or Zongo case and no changes had been made.

One final point. Contrary to The Vicar’s claim that the District Attorney had requested the police department to halt its investigation into supervisory lapses during Conroy’s trial, a D.A. spokeswoman said "No such request was made." Vicar Browne did not return a phone call.

The Fighting McCarthys. [Con’t] The trial of Deputy Commissioner of Operations Garry McCarthy and his family – scheduled yesterday – was adjourned yet again, this time to Jan. 18th. Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Judge Steven Zaben gave no reason for the adjournment.

Although charged with minor violations after their daughter was ticketed for parking in a handicapped zone, McCarthy and his wife Regina tried to interfere with the cops involved in the summons, shouting and cursing loud enough that police disarmed McCarthy. Regina then grabbed the gun from the officers' patrol car and was subsequently handcuffed.

Deputy Commissioner Browne has said the incident was not serious enough to warrant any discipline.

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Copyright © 2005 Leonard Levitt