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Why Not Admit to Being a Police Officer?

December 23, 2005

According to a police source, NYPD Inspector Robert Wheeler left the scene of a shooting in Washington D.C, in which he shot one of four teenage robbers.

He then called 911 from a house his family owns in the northwest section of the city. He reported the robbery but failed to mention he had shot one of the teens.

When D.C. cops came to the house to interview him, Wheeler gave descriptions of the teenagers but failed to identify himself as a police officer.

The next day – Saturday, December 10 -- he returned to New York. Not until the following day – two days after the shooting -- did he alert the authorities – the NYPD – that he had shot the teen.

By NYPD standards, Wheeler’s failings were egregious. Yet no disciplinary action has been taken against him.

A retired chief with 35 years of service said, “Leaving the scene of a shooting incident where someone is shot, and in a foreign jurisdiction, and there is no change in his [Wheeler’s] duty status? I can certainly tell you that this would be an offence punishable by immediate suspension after just a preliminary investigation.”

So why has Police Commissioner Ray Kelly neither suspended nor placed Wheeler on modified assignment? Does Kelly know something no one else in the department does? Or is he protecting Wheeler as he has Deputy Commissioner Garry McCarthy, who was handcuffed and his gun taken from him by Palisades Parkway New Jersey police after McCarthy literally fought a parking ticket given to his daughter? Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne has said McCarthy’s incident – which occurred last February -- “does not rise to the level of discipline.” Browne did not return a call about Wheeler.

Or is something else involved with Wheeler? Race, maybe, as Wheeler is one of the highest ranking black officers in the department, one of only five black inspectors in a job with 38,000 officers.

At least one incident in his career has involved racial controversy. In 1994, before the Transit Police were merged with the NYPD, Wheeler was among a group of black transit officers guarding the hospital door of Desmond Robinson, a black undercover, shot by Peter Del Debbio, a white NYPD lieutenant. Del Debbio had mistaken Robinson for a criminal. According to NYPD lore, when Del Debbio arrived at the hospital to reconcile with Robinson, Wheeler and his transit crew refused to allow him to enter Robinson’s room.

Many in the NYPD viewed that action as racial. Others saw it as the Transit Police versus the NYPD.

In 2004, Kelly transferred Wheeler -- who was listed in the 2004 roster as the commanding officer of Transit Borough Queens -- to the commanding officer of the Equal Employment Opportunity office. He succeeded Stephen Kennedy, who had been promoted to Deputy Chief. Police sources say Kelly planned to promote Wheeler to chief as well.

But Wheeler and EEO Deputy Commissioner Neldra Zeigler tangled, department sources say, adding that when Zeigler learned Wheeler was accessing his owncontroversial website on a department computer, she went to Kelly, who quietly transferred Wheeler back to Transit. He is listed in the 2005 roster as the commanding officer of Transit Borough Brooklyn.

Now let’s return to Washington, D.C. Officer D. Jackson of the D.C. Metropolitan police’s public information office says the case is still under investigation.

The police source who spoke to this reporter about the shooting says it appears to be “clean” – that is, justified. And the injury to the teen seems minor.

“There was nothing sinister,” says the official, who described. Wheeler as “a victim of circumstance who might have panicked.”

What no one knows is why. Why was Wheeler afraid to disclose his role in the shooting? Why was he afraid to disclose he was an officer of the NYPD?

From Mops to Training. The police department’s top brass repeatedly complains that Ray Kelly doesn’t do anything for anyone – that he plays no favorites and does no favors.

But an investigation by Your Humble Servant proves this is not true.

Witness Deputy Commissioner Charlie DeRienzo. In 2002, Kelly personally called then New Jersey governor James McGreevey to recommend DeRienzo as superintendent of the Port Authority police. DeRienzo got the job.

Unfortunately, he lasted only two years.

Kelly then returned him to the NYPD as Deputy Commissioner of Administration, a title created for friends of police commissioners.

DeRienzo stated he hoped to work with other law enforcement agencies to protect the city from terrorism. Instead, Kelly made him the head of the Facilities Management Division. The Division oversees the Building Maintenance Section, the Plant Management Unit, and the Headquarters Custodial Section. In laymen’s terms, it’s the Division of Mops and Brooms.

But now DeRienzo has a new job with a new title. Following the death of Dr. James Fyfe, the former Deputy Commissioner of Training at the Police Academy, DeRienzo is now “Acting Deputy Commissioner of Training.”

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Copyright © 2005 Leonard Levitt