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Len Levitt

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The NYPD Top Brass: Lonely and Unloved

Posted: 02/ 6/2012 11:00 am

In yet another slap at the NYPD's demoralized top brass, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has abolished a top three-star chief's job, giving it instead to an obscure civilian.

Reversing four decades of tradition, Kelly last week appointed the civilian, Arnold Wechsler, to head the Personnel Bureau, with the title of Deputy Commissioner.

At least since the 1980s, that job has been held by one of the department's three-star "super-chiefs" -- which include the Chiefs of Detectives, Patrol, Organized Crime and Internal Affairs.

The three-star chief rank was also assigned to the heads of the Transit and Housing Bureaus after those agencies merged into the NYPD under former mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The last three Chiefs of Personnel have all moved on to loftier and more prestigious law enforcement positions.

Before Kelly appointed him First Deputy Police Commissioner two years ago, Rafael Pineiro had been the Chief of Personnel.

Pineiro succeeded James Lawrence, whom Kelly had appointed when he returned as police commissioner in 2002. Lawrence left shortly afterwards to become Commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department.

The most recent Chief of Personnel, Thomas Dale, whom Kelly appointed a year ago, is now Nassau County's Acting Police Commissioner.

Wechsler, on the other hand, is listed on Page 21 of the 2011 NYPD roster as the head of the Employee Management Division, a subset of the Personnel Bureau. Although he has worked at Police Plaza for the past 25 years, few know him.

Those who do say Wechsler knows the department well and that Kelly was not exaggerating in saying that he "has the incomparable expertise to handle the demands and complexities of the NYPD's 50,000-employee organization."

Yet it's unclear whether Kelly appointed Wechsler because of his expertise -- or for other reasons -- like sending yet another message to the top brass that they don't matter.

If nothing else, Kelly's appointment of Wechsler is symbolic, reflecting his penchant for empowering civilians at the expense of the top brass, whose role Kelly has diminished since returning as commissioner in 2002.

Indeed, in a related move, Kelly transferred the commanding officer of his own office, two-star Chief Michael Shea, to the Personnel Bureau to work under Wechsler.

Kelly's top aides are now all civilians: his closest advisor, Deputy Commissioner for Information Public Information Paul Browne; Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Initiatives Michael Farrell; Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen; Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism Richard Daddario; Special Counsel to Kelly, Katherine Lemire; and Kelly's chief of staff Joe Wuensch.

In addition, Kelly's micromanaging has stripped the chiefs of much of their authority.

One recently retired chief says that under Kelly the Chief of Personnel became nothing more than a figurehead. The real power lay with Wuench, who, from Kelly's office, handles all promotions and transfers.

Chiefs whom Kelly dislikes or loses confidence in don't get fired. Instead, police sources say, Kelly doesn't include them in staff meetings or undercuts them by dealing with their deputies.

Says a former chief: "He makes them organizationally impotent."

Even top police officials such as former First Deputy Commissioner George Grasso and Chief of Department Joe Esposito were unable for years to get Kelly's public schedule.

"Traditionally, you pick it up late in the day for the next day," the former chief said. "Eventually representatives from Grasso's and Espo's office stopped asking for it. They had to guess where Kelly would be the next day."

In moments of crisis, Kelly has sided with civilians over high-ranking members of the department.

In 2003, Cohen ordered detectives to question arrested anti-Iraq-war demonstrators about their friends and political affiliations, then to file the information on a "demonstration debriefing" form that was inputted into a data base.

After the New York Times reported on this seemingly unconstitutional police tactic, Kelly professed no knowledge of the demonstration debriefing form. This prompted U.S. District Judge Charles Haight to compare Kelly's lack of knowledge to the shock expressed by actor Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca when told there was gambling in Rick's Café -- just as Rains was handed his winnings for the night.

To obscure his role in this fiasco, Cohen forced the retirement of the Intelligence Division's commanding officer, Assistant Chief John Cutter.

In 2009, Cohen ordered detectives to secretly contact an NYPD informant about would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi. His plot to plant bombs in the subway posed the most serious threat to New York City since 9/11. But the informant tipped off Zazi's father about the investigation, jeopardizing the entire case.

To obscure his role in this second fiasco, Cohen ordered the transfer of Deputy Inspector Paul Ciorra, the Intelligence Division's Collection Coordinator.

Last March Deputy Chief James Shea (no relation to Michael Shea), who headed the NYPD part of the Joint (FBI-NYPD) Terrorism Task Force, refused a possibly unlawful order by his superior, Counter-Terrorism head Daddario, to remove classified FBI files from the Bureau's New York headquarters.

Daddario's order to Shea came around the time that Cohen had ordered Inspector John Nicholson, the department's number two man at the JTTF, to remove classified FBI documents concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Like Shea, Nicholson refused. Kelly then transferred him out of the JTTF to Patrol Borough Brooklyn South.

After holding back on transferring Shea because of protests from FBI officials, Kelly subsequently assigned him to the Police Academy.

Shea's case is currently part of a larger federal investigation into government leaks in high-profile terror cases. He has testified at least once before a federal grand jury in Washington D.C., and has been forced to spend thousands of dollars to hire his own attorney.

Sources say Shea felt that an NYPD attorney might have other priorities, like protecting the department's image at his expense.

Three months after transferring Shea, Kelly then dumped his brother, Inspector Dermot Shea, from his spot as commander of the high-crime 44th precinct in the Bronx to a desk job in Bronx Detectives. A month or so later, he was transferred again, this time to Manhattan Detectives. Many view his two recent transfers as retaliation for his brother.

Then, there is Kelly's personal pique, which can be as important as his policies.

Sources say that Kelly becomes irate if people he appoints to high positions depart.

"He considers them ungrateful," says a former top official, "even if he has stripped them of authority."

This appears to be the case with both Chief of Personnel Lawrence, who left for the Nassau job just months after Kelly had appointed him, and with Chief of Personnel Dale, who left after only a year.

In addition, says the retired chief, Dale didn't tell Kelly he was interviewing for the Nassau job, which angered Kelly even more.

Neither Dale nor Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Browne returned a phone call from this reporter, seeking comment.

"Kelly put Wechsler there because no decisions are made in Personnel anymore," said a police source.

"The feeling from the higher-ups is that Kelly [felt] that the three-star would sit there and do nothing but search the help-wanted ads and get a great job a. k.a. Tommy Dale and Nassau County."


WEASEL WORDS. Is it irony or cynicism that Ray Kelly is using Rudy Giuliani and FBI Director Robert Mueller to justify his interview in the controversial film, The Third Jihad?

For the past ten years, Kelly has done nothing but badmouth the FBI. And he still smarts from Giuliani's firing him in 1994. Now, however, he defends his Third Jihad interview by saying that Mueller and Giuliani were interviewed too.

Kelly is also using the FBI to justify the NYPD's spying on the city's Iranian Shiites, as the Associated Press reported in its latest expose.

"The NYPD is prohibited under its own guidelines and city law from basing its investigations on religion," the AP wrote. "Under FBI guidelines, which the NYPD says it follows, many of the recommendations in the police document would be prohibited."

That statement prompted an email from former FBI agent and spokesman Frank Scafidi:

How ironic and pathetic, frankly, that the No. 1 self-proclaimed expert on all things law enforcement and the FBI's chief critic, Ray Kelly, would hide behind the FBI rather than man-up and face the music...


Kelly's first self-preserving thought is to claim that NYPD follows the FBI's guidelines. In other words, don't bash NYPD, we follow the FBI's lead on these things and if it's good enough for the FBI, it has to be good enough for NYPD.

Kelly has trashed the FBI for years, enabled by successive FBI executives who have refused to publicly defend the FBI against Kelly's verbal assaults, and now he is seeking to shelter the entire NYPD Intelligence Division under the umbrella of the FBI.