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Charlottesville's Policing Problem

August 21, 2017

Was a possible watershed moment in our history — the violence generated by right-wing extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia — precipitated by poor policing?

“I don’t care how angry the groups are. I don’t care how many there are,” said former NYPD Chief of Department Louis Anemone, who wrote the department’s orders for disorder control. “We [the NYPD] would have been right in the middle of it.”

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialBoston police apparently agreed with his assessment. In contrast to Charlottesville, where law enforcement authorities seemed unprepared for the large and violent demonstration, a large Boston police presence during last weekend’s demonstration there kept protestors and counter-protestors mostly separated and peaceful.

“It starts with planning,” says Anemone. “They [Virginia law enforcement authorities] knew that this was coming. Once you have foreknowledge and know the history of these groups, it’s not rocket science.”

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittGun laws may be different in Virginia, an open-carry state. Still, says Anemone, “You may have a right to own or even carry a weapon, but in this particular instance when you have a threat to public safety, a mayor or a ranking police official can issue directives. You can warn the demonstrators in advance: You have a right to come to town and demonstrate, but you do not have a right to parade with a gun. We are not going to allow it. We are going to take it. We’ll give you a receipt for it,” he said.

Likewise, for counter-protesters. “You can also warn the demonstrators in advance that if you demonstrate, we will not allow you to carry sticks or pipes or weapons, and if you do, we will confiscate them. … You can carry a sign on cardboard and hold it up in your hand,” Anemone said. “It’s little things like that that make the difference.”

One of the more appalling videos out of Charlottesville aired on NBC last week, showing three white men in battle fatigues standing outside a synagogue, each holding a high-powered weapon. The synagogue’s rabbi told NBC he advised congregants to sneak out the back door.

“You have anti-black and anti-Jewish groups and you don’t prepare in advance to protect vulnerable institutions?” Anemone said of the local and state police response to the planned Charlottesville rally. “Don’t they have a list of them? Don’t they care? This wasn’t an example of professional policing. It was a little bit of good old boy policing style. As in ‘Yankees, don’t tell us how to do it, we’ve been doing it this way for 100 years.’”

Anemone explained that his “Yankee” comment came from working with a police department in the south. “I have experience down there,” he said. After he retired from the NYPD in 1999, he served as a consultant for the Jackson, Mississippi department. “I was introduced to the chief and his top deputy. They asked me my name. Their first comment was, ‘That doesn’t sound like a southern name.’ I said, ‘It is southern. Southern Italy.’”

Milton Mollen, who died last week at age 97, will be remembered for his contributions in combating police corruption in the early 1990s. His commission, formed under Mayor David Dinkins, did not have an easy time. Caught between the territorial cross-currents of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office of Robert Morgenthau, Mollen threw in with the feds. The result: The convictions of 36 cops on the midnight tour of the 30th Precinct -– the Dirty Thirty, as they were called — on drug-related crimes.

Since then, fighting police corruption has taken a back seat in NYPD priorities. Under Rudy Giuliani and Bill Bratton in the mid 1990s, the department’s priority was fighting crime. Under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly after 9/11, it was fighting terrorism.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialThe recent retirements of a dozen or so chiefs and inspectors under both Kelly and Bratton [in his second term] amid a corruption investigation — albeit allegations that are less serious than those of the Mollen Commission — reveal the problem is still with us.

A Daily News report last week said that top officials of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau en route to Afghanistan on a training mission were too drunk to board the army plane taking them there. If true, this may present current Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill with his first internal test of leadership.

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