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The Daily News and the NYPD: Blinded by Love

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What's with the editorial page of the Daily News when it comes to the police department?

A real newspaper challenges authority, uncovers facts that officials want to hide from the public and encourages its reporters to take the story wherever it leads.

Why then is the News a milksop and apologist for the New York City Police Department?

Take its Oct. 3 editorial, lamenting 2010's rise of 45 murders over the same period last year, which translates into a 13 per cent increase (a figure the News apparently found too disturbing to mention).

Instead of decrying the department's declining manpower or its leadership drift - a.k.a. Commissioner Ray Kelly -- the News appeared to blame the increase in murders on two criminologists.

Or as its editorial put it:

[T]he NYPD is under assault by self-styled activists and self-promoting academics ...

They would force the department to curtail asking suspicious characters to account for themselves and frisking those who may be armed.

They would enact legislation that would bar the police commissioner and precinct commanders from demanding that the troops make arrests and issue summonses rather than stand around as the blue flowerpots of old did.

They would have the NYPD abandon perhaps the most effective public safety innovation in the history of policing: CompStat. Using real-time crime data, the system holds commanders accountable for responding to felonious outbreaks.

O.K., now let's get real.

First, it wasn't these academics who raised the alarm over stop and frisks. It was Gov. Paterson, the state legislature, the Civil Liberties Union and God knows how many other New Yorkers disturbed by seemingly random police stops of some three million New Yorkers, 88 per cent of whom had done nothing wrong.

Second, nobody wants to handcuff the cops. The issue is that cops appear to avoid doing true police work and instead are fudging crime statistics to make the city seem safer than it is. According to tape-recordings of roll call meetings at Brooklyn's 81st precinct, for example, the police were arresting innocent people to make their quotas.

This bourgeoning scandal is apparently growing too big for Kelly to ignore. Last week he leveled charges against five supervisors, including the 81st precinct's former commander Steven Mauriello, for allegedly manipulating crime statistics.

Third, as for abandoning CompStat, no one has called for the end of this revolutionary and highly successful crime-tracking program, least of all the two academics scapegoated by the News, Eli Silverman and John Eterno, who happens to be a former NYPD captain.

Rather, their study, published last February, claimed that up to 25 per cent of the nearly 500 commanders they interviewed told them that CompStat crime figures were under-reported to make the city seem safer than it is.

As Silverman and Eterno recently wrote in the Village Voice -- an article that appears to have prompted the News' attack, "The ominous side [of CompStat] is that in order to silence dissenters and deny any problems, the NYPD continues to close its doors to any non-sponsored outside scrutiny. Yet the evidence of data manipulation is, at this point, overwhelming."

That's the issue, readers. The lack of outside scrutiny and the lack of transparency within the police department. Especially when it comes to crime statistics.

To keep down the numbers of reported crime, detectives even refuse to take complaints from civilians, as the News' own police bureau chief Rocco Parascandola reported in 2005 when he worked for Newsday.

That's what apparently happened six weeks ago in the 66th precinct in Brooklyn when officers refused to take a complaint from a woman who spotted a flasher exposing himself outside her home during the last week of August, according to the Borough Park newspaper Hamodia, with tragic consequences.

A week later, that flasher shot four members of a civilian patrol that had been chasing him after he again was seen exposing himself, this time in front of children.

Hamodia also reported that the department acknowledged its mistake and claimed to have disciplined the officers but refused to name them or detail their punishment.

Despite these shadows surrounding the NYPD, the Daily News' editorial pages remain an unquestioning department supporter.

That may seem strange because its editorial page editor, Arthur Browne, is the consummate newsman.

Three decades ago as the paper's top investigative reporter, Browne singlehandedly dismantled the Staten Island political establishment by exposing corruption there.

A few years later, Your Humble Servant watched in awe as Browne followed the bellicose Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward about Police Plaza, seeking answers Ward did not want to provide. Never speaking, never flinching, Browne simply held out his tape recorder to report Ward's fury verbatim.

In 2007, Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for searing editorials about some 12,000 first responders sickened by the atomized air at Ground Zero.

Browne, who did not return a call from this reporter, is certainly capable of posing hard questions and uncovering injustices within the NYPD. Would that he ask who authorized breaking into the apartment of the cop who exposed the crime manipulation in the 81st precinct, and then hauling him off against his will to Jamaica Hospital's psychiatric ward.

JOHN CLIFFORD: 34 YEARS OF NYPD BLUE. Few people outside the NYPD know the name John Clifford, who died earlier this month at age 65. In the 1980s, he served as a detective in the department's Public Information Office. He was loyal not only to the department but to the concept of telling the truth -- if not the full truth then at least to not telling a lie. When the department screwed up, Clifford never equivocated. He simply refused to answer. While some reporters viewed this as churlishness, others realized that when Clifford did speak, you'd be wise to listen.

He joined Kelly when Kelly became First Deputy under Mayor David Dinkins. "Kelly's the best commissioner the department ever had," Clifford said a few years later. "He knows it better than anyone and he is smarter than all of them."

When Rudy Giuliani replaced Kelly with Bill Bratton in 1994, Clifford returned to the Public Information office. Two years later, Giuliani ordered a purge of the office because he felt Bratton was receiving too much publicity. Clifford, along with a dozen other officers, disappeared into the bowels of the Intelligence Division.

When Giuliani replaced Bratton with Howard Safir in 1996, Safir asked Kelly for staffing advice. Kelly recommended Clifford, who joined Safir's staff in the commissioner's office. Probably at Giuliani's behest, Safir then severed relations with Kelly.

When Kelly returned as commissioner in 2002, he cut Safir off from the department, most notably from Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen. "I have called you four times and you have not returned my calls," Safir lamented in an email. "There was never a time when I was P.C. that I did not return the call you made to me, nor did I ever fail to help you."

When Safir called Kelly's office seeking a meeting, it was Clifford, back working for Kelly, who told Safir that he had to write a letter.

Clifford never discussed this. He was too loyal to the department to wash its dirty linen in public, even in front of his devoted wife Bunny. Kelly spoke at his funeral and issued a press release, calling him "a consummate professional and devoted friend."

FIGHTING TERROR? Commissioner Kelly invited camera crews to the NYPD's pistol range at Rodman's Neck in the Bronx to watch an anti-terrorism drill last week. The reason for the drill, Kelly said, was the terror threat in Europe, which included the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack. Was it coincidence that the Port Authority Police - with whom Kelly has continually feuded over terror tactics -- was conducting its own anti-terror drill on Saturday at Newark Airport, without the NYPD?