THE BLOG
10/14/2013 12:09 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

De Blasio's Top Cop

The well-known Bill Bratton versus the unknown Phil Banks.

The newspapers and the internet are filled with chatter over which man New York City's presumed next mayor, Bill de Blasio, will appoint as police commissioner.

Much of the chatter emanates from Bratton himself -- which considering his first run as police commissioner when Rudy Giuliani dumped him for seeking too much publicity may not be surprising.

Bratton was at it again last Wednesday, telling reporters after speaking at NYU that, yes, he was interested in returning to the job he'd held nearly 20 years before. "Apart from being an optimist, I guess I'm a glutton for punishment," he said.

In contrast to the dour Ray Kelly, that kind of upbeat talk is typical of Bratton.

"It's not a job you campaign for, you don't exactly run for it like you would for mayor," he added.

As is also typical of Bratton, what he says is not always true.

Bratton has been running for police commissioner since 2001 when he glommed on to the Democratic mayoral front-runner, Mark Green. Kelly glommed onto Green's Republican rival, Michael Bloomberg, and the rest is history.

This election cycle, Bratton expressed interest in returning as police commissioner to all but one of the Democratic candidates, including de Blasio. The exception was Christine Quinn, who sounded interested in retaining Kelly.

Meanwhile, de Blasio has praised Bratton, saying "It just stands to reason" that Bratton might be his choice to succeed Kelly.

But that's a mighty big "might."

Whether de Blasio is serious about reappointing Bratton or is merely tacking to the political right to burnish his law-and-order credentials after making his criticism of the NYPD's controversial Stop and Frisk policy the centerpiece of his primary campaign remains to be seen.

Notwithstanding Bratton's unflagging self-promotion, de Blasio surely recognizes that Bratton is a visionary, who in just two years as police commissioner in New York changed the department's culture, which had all but given up on controlling crime.

While crime dropped incrementally under Kelly in his 14 months as commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, the dramatic drops -- which Kelly in his second term as commissioner brought to records lows -- began under Bratton.

Bratton has apparently learned from his dealings with Giuliani and got along just fine in Los Angeles, where he served as police commissioner for seven years, shepherding the LAPD out from under a federal monitor, which is what de Blasio's top cop will face in New York.
But is de Blasio prepared to take on a prima donna who he may be unable to control from City Hall?

He's also cited Banks, a 26-year NYPD veteran from a police family, as a candidate for commissioner.

While lacking Bratton's resume, Banks has a quality Bratton lacks -- one that de Blasio may feel is important in light of Stop and Frisk, which targeted young black males: Banks is a black man.
Earlier this year, amidst the Stop and Frisk crisis, Kelly appointed Banks Chief of Department, which is the NYPD's highest ranking uniformed officer, jumping him over many higher-ranking chiefs.

But under Kelly, the Chief of Department has become just a figurehead. Under him, the NYPD has become a top-down shop, with all decisions made by Kelly, who undermined his top chiefs - Banks' predecessor Joe Esposito included.

Kelly rarely, if ever, allowed Esposito to speak to the media. Once he cut him off in mid-sentence.
At the Stop and Frisk trial in federal court, Kelly put Esposito forward to testify while he himself chose not to. He then swiped at the presiding judge, Shira Scheindlin, in the newspapers.
In addition to Banks' lack of authority as Chief of Department, two of his promotions under Kelly were to lesser "black track" positions -- the School Safety Division and Community Affairs Bureau - where, for reasons that are not clear, Kelly places rising black commanders.

Meanwhile, de Blasio's comments, praising the police department as it was run under Dinkins, indicates he may not be as familiar with the NYPD as he ought to be.

Under Dinkins' first police commissioner, Lee Brown, who served from 1990 to 1992, the department literally ran amok. The Crown Heights riots, which led to the fatal stabbing of an innocent Hasidic Jew by a black mob, occurred in 1991. The soporific Brown did not exert leadership and Dinkins has criticized him for that.

In addition, under Brown the Internal Affairs Division, as it was then known, collapsed without Brown's having a clue, leading to the appointment of the Mollen Commission. That, in turn, led to the convictions of three dozen cops from the 30th precinct for drug-related crimes. The precinct was so notorious for corruption it became known as the "Dirty Thirty."

MR HALF-TRUTH. For the past ten years or so, this column has referred to Ray Kelly's spokesman Paul Brown as "Mr. Truth."

Now the words of a federal judge suggest a name for Kelly: "Mr. Half-Truth."
Hearing arguments last week that the NYPD had violated terms of its longstanding Handschu guidelines by retaining reports of lawful activity in its data bank, federal judge Charles Haight Jr. cited a speech Kelly gave last year to Fordham University Law School alumni, in which Kelly justified the NYPD's pervasive spying on Muslims.

Haight pointed out that Kelly had cited the first sentence of the guidelines' subsection: "Visiting Public Places and Events," telling his Fordham audience: "The NYPD is authorized to visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public," and "to conduct online search activity and to access online sites and forums on the same terms ... as members of the public."

But Haight noted that Kelly did not cite the guidelines' next sentence, which reads: "No information obtained from such visits shall be retained unless it relates to potential unlawful or terrorist activity."

In fact, Kelly's Fordham speech is filled with half-truths like these. We list just three of them.

l. The truth: Referring to his return as commissioner in 2002, Kelly told the Fordham alumni: "By then it was clear the city could not simply defer the responsibility of counter-terrorism to the federal government. We have to work with them."

The half-truth: This resulted in rivaling and often not cooperating with the FBI. Specifically, it resulted in sending NYPD detectives on out-of-state anti-terrorism forays without informing the FBI; racing the FBI to get the first interview with the Spanish National police after the Madrid train bombing in 2004; and during the FBI-led investigation of Najibullah Zazi in 2009, contacting an NYPD informant without informing the FBI. That informant tipped off Zazi's father, short-circuiting the investigation.

2. The truth: Kelly told the Fordham alumni that in January, 2002, "the NYPD became the first police department in the country to develop our own counter-terrorism bureau. To lead it we appointed Marine Lieu. General Frank Libutti, who once commanded all marines in the Pacific theater.

The half-truth: Libutti left the NYPD in early 2003 after only 14 months.

3. The truth: Kelly also told the Fordham alumni: "To head our restructured Intelligence Division, we recruited David Cohen, a 35-year veteran of the CIA....We posted senior officers in 11 cities around the world to form relationships with local police agencies and visited the scenes of terrorist attacks."

The half-truth: Lat January at a forum at the YMHA, Kelly was asked by the moderator, Stephen J. Adler, the president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, whether there had "been any actual tips about potential attacks in New York that you picked up overseas in any of these offices."
Kelly's response: "No."

THE "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" DEPARTMENT. Email from Your Humble Servant to Rachel Noerdlinger, spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"Rachel, I've been reading the Rev's autobiography in the Daily News but have yet to see anything approaching an apology to Pagones in the Tawana Brawley case for ruining his life by the Rev's false charges.

"Ditto the Rev's anti-Semitic remarks and actions at Freddy's Fashion Mart and during the Crown Heights riots. Did I miss this?"

Noerdlinger did not respond to NYPD Confidential's email. She can't say, as she did during our last go-round over the Rev's failure to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars he owes in taxes, that she never received it because we sent it to her twice.

In the Brawley case, Sharpton named Steven Pagones, an Assistant Dutchess County District Attorney, as one of the group of hooded white men who Brawley claimed raped her. Her story was determined to be a hoax but launched Sharpton's career. The Rev is now a commentator on MSNBC and an adviser of presidents -- at least an adviser to President Obama.

Also missing in my reading of the Daily News was any mention of the Rev as an FBI informant.

Reached by telephone, the Rev's former FBI handler, Joe Spinelli, declined comment.

ODE TO JOE HYNES on announcing that, contrary to his earlier declaration, he will run, yet again, for Brooklyn D.A., this time on the Republican and Conservative lines despite his defeat in the Democratic primary by Kenneth Thompson.

Poor Old Joe. He can't let go. Of his own ego.

Poor Old Joe. He can't say no. He doesn't know. It's time to blow.