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An Inspector General: The Past's Not Necessarily Prelude

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Is the idea of an inspector general to monitor the NYPD as far-fetched and unworkable as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his claque of supporters claim?

Well, the NYPD had a monitor 20 years ago, although under a different guise. He was a civilian deputy commissioner in charge of the department's Internal Affairs Bureau.

Kelly, under duress in his first term as police commissioner, appointed him.

The monitor was Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor under Rudy Giuliani with impeccable credentials, whom Giuliani forced out after Mack had suggested that Giuliani was taking credit for investigations begun by his predecessor.

As an NYPD Deputy Commissioner, Mack established a model for IAB that was praised by city prosecutors, federal law enforcement officials and the Mollen Commission on police corruption, whose formation had led Kelly to appoint him.

In an interview last week, Mack said he viewed his position not as an outside monitor but as an outsider who was an inside monitor. He reported directly to Kelly. "He did not in any way limit my authority," Mack said.

The key to Mack's success, he said, was recognizing that a monitor could not sit above and apart from the police department but had to engage the department: in his case, IAB. "No one is better able than IAB to run undercover investigations dealing with police corruption," he said.

Mack didn't last, though. A marine captain and Vietnam War veteran who later protested the war, Mack was a graduate of the elite Milton Academy, Harvard College and Columbia Law School. He was, in his own words, "an alien" to the NYPD.

After appointing Mack. Kelly didn't last either. Giuliani dismissed him after he was inaugurated as mayor in 1994. A year later, Kelly's successor, Bill Bratton, purged Mack.

Of course, there are differences between Mack's appointment 20 years ago and a proposed inspector general as envisioned today. Most important is the scope of the inspector general's mandate.

Mack had been appointed a deputy commissioner under Kelly solely to supervise the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau, then under scrutiny for failing to root out police corruption.

The mandate for the proposed inspector general, while yet undefined, appears to be far wider in authority than Mack's. The talk is also that the inspector general will be separate and apart from the police commissioner -- maybe even over him.

But there are also similarities. Most important, there is a constant: Ray Kelly.

So what can we learn from the past? Let's set the scene.

Back then, a crew of Brooklyn cops, headed by Michael Dowd, was running wild and dealing drugs out of their Brooklyn precincts. The police department's corruption watchdog, its Internal Affairs Division before it became a bureau, did nothing to stop them.

Dowd's drug dealing was discovered not by the NYPD but by police in Suffolk County, L.I. The result was a public outcry. The result of that: the formation by Mayor David Dinkins of the Mollen Commission, headed by Judge Milton Mollen. By the time, the commission wrapped up, it had gone far beyond Dowd, resulting in convictions of three dozen cops in the 30th precinct on drug-related charges.

Kelly, who became police commissioner a few months after Dinkins announced the Mollen Commission, was as resistant to challenges to his authority as he is today.

He was also as mindful of his reputation.

Initially, he resisted changes to IAB. When its head, Chief Daniel Sullivan, retired, Kelly promoted its number two man, Robert Beatty, who was said to be Kelly's friend and whose brief tenure was marred by botched cases and apparent cover-ups.

In the fall of 1993, the Mollen Commission held public hearings, where Beatty's failings were exposed. Sullivan testified that Beatty had failed to inform prosecutors of 250 cases of serious corruption and that 40 serious corruption cases in the past five years had not been entered in IAB's files. Instead, said Sullivan, cases involving high-ranking officers were hidden in what was known as a "tickler file."

As a result, the Mollen Commission proposed an outside monitor. Only then did Kelly act.

Before the commission issued its final report, Kelly ran from the rear of the anti-corruption line to lead the reform parade, taking the unprecedented step of hiring a civilian -- Mack -- to oversee Internal Affairs.

Kelly then attempted to cleanse his own reputation, down to the smallest detail. "Kelly phoned me last Friday to protest that I had maligned him in my column on police corruption," wrote Sydney Schanberg, then a columnist for New York Newsday, in 1993. "He insisted he was not a 'close friend' of Beatty as I had written, and knew him 'only in a professional way.'"

Today, the situation is different, starting with Kelly. He is a different person from 20 years before. He has served longer than any police commissioner in city history. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has allowed him more power. As a result, Kelly accepts no criticism. He accepts no authority but his own.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal last week what he has changed regarding the NYPD's pervasive surveillance of Muslims in light of the Associated Press' Pulitzer-prize winning series, concluding that Muslims were unfairly targeted, Kelly answered: "Nothing."

Another difference is that today's proposed inspector general did not result from old-fashioned police corruption but from numerous other issues, the most prominent of which is the department's aggressive Stop and Frisk policy. Since Kelly's return as commissioner in 2002, this has resulted in some five million stops, primarily of blacks between the ages of 14 to 21, the legality of which is currently playing out in federal court.

After 10 years of pandering news reports about Kelly, a new media dynamic has emerged.

At the stop and frisk trial last week, Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, a former police captain and longtime Kelly antagonist, charged that Kelly had told him in the presence of former Gov. David Paterson and former Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries that police stopped black youths solely "to install fear of the police."

Adams had made that charge previously, most recently on NY1 two years ago. But nobody was listening. Only NYPD Confidential reported it.

Last week, all the city's daily newspapers reported Adams' accusation -- but both Paterson and Jeffries, now a U.S. Congressman, pulled disappearing acts when asked to confirm it.

Kelly, who is not testifying at the trial for reasons that city lawyers refused to discuss, issued a categorical denial, although, as Judge Shira Scheindlin pointed out, his denial would not be included in the court record unless Kelly testified in the trial.

Instead, Kelly defended stop and frisk before The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action League.

The week before, Sharpton had called for the suspension of an NYPD deputy inspector who in a secret recording played at the stop and frisk trial had ordered his officers to stop and frisk "the right people at the right time at the right location." Unofficial translation: stop all black males ages 14 to 21.

So is an outside monitor necessary for the NYPD? Equally important, can it work?

For the record, here's what the Mollen Commission said in its final report in 1994:

If history proves anything, it is that when the glare of scrutiny shines on the Department, it can and will successfully police itself. History also proves that left to its own devices, the Department will backslide and its commitment to integrity will erode. It is no coincidence that the only two times in the past 20 years that fighting corruption has been a priority in the Department was when an independent commission publicly reviewed and disclosed the Department's failure to keep its own house in order.

The commission then made two recommendations before passing into history. The first was the establishment of a permanent corruption monitor outside the police department. The second was that the monitor must have subpoena power to investigate police corruption on its own. Mayor Giuliani, reversing his position as a federal prosecutor, rejected both.

A KELLY RANT. Meanwhile, a defensive, though combative, Kelly sat for an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week and blamed the idea of an inspector general on politics and a biased judge.

"The police department has sort of become a piñata in this mayoral race. Their [Democratic mayoral candidates'] goal is to see who can get as far to the left as possible because they see that as the key to winning the primary," he told James Freeman, an assistant editor the Journal's editorial page, which headlined the piece, "The Political War on the NYPD."

"They are hell-bent on finding anything they can wrong with the department," Kelly said.

"It's just a small group and they have intimidated these politicians to take this route. And also in my view the judge is very much in their corner and has been all along throughout her career."

Kelly also called an outside monitor "one of the biggest scams in law enforcement... Nothing is ever right. Because if I think everything's right, then I stop getting paid."

A simpatico Freeman asked whether Kelly should run for mayor to "take on his critics." Kelly considered running in 2008 before Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him by deciding to run for a third term. So far, he has rejected running in this election cycle.

A couple of factors may alter that.

First, becoming mayor may be the surest way to short-circuit an outside monitor.

Second, the leading mayoral candidate, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, may have shot herself in the foot by supporting an outside police monitor while saying, oxymoronically, she wanted to keep Kelly as commissioner.

What if Bloomberg, who opposes the monitor as strongly as Kelly and who seemed to be leaning towards Quinn, changes course? What if he decides that the surest way to secure his legacy is to support Kelly?

Moreover, in light of the recent arrests of state and city officials on political corruption charges, a good-government crack may have opened to allow a white-knight non-politician to come forward. His supporter are already suggesting that white knight is Ray Kelly.

With editing from Donald Forst