The New York Times by Al Baker - November 10, 2011
Tony Bennett solicits a ticket fix from the police chief, played by Tom Selleck, at 2:22 of this clip of a recent episode of “Blue Bloods.” As television moments go, it was prescient. It was weeks before the unsealing of indictments in the Bronx against more than two dozen police officers, 11 of them on charges related to fixing traffic and parking tickets. But there, on the CBS crime show “Blue Bloods” broadcast Sept. 23, the fictional chief of the city police force, Frank Reagan (played by Tom Selleck), sat in a lounge watching Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood sing. After crooning his way through “It Had to Be You,” Mr. Bennett gestured to the audience and said, “I see my old friend Frank Reagan over there. By the way, my driver got a speeding ticket — could you take care of that for me?” A round of laughter followed, and the chief bowed his head and waved. “Thank you,” said Mr. Bennett, apparently taking the wave as recognition of a favor granted. Then he, too, giggled. It was no light matter, though, when the city’s real-life commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, was asked whether he had ever fixed a ticket at a news conference after the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, unsealed those ticket-fixing indictments Oct. 28. Mr. Kelly said he had never fixed a ticket in his career with the department, nor had he ever been asked to. “If I was approached, I’d say no,” Mr. Kelly said. He pointed out that the long investigation, which involved wiretaps of officers’ phones, unveiled some evidence of officers’ declining to fix tickets. “The notion that everybody does it simply is not supported by what we heard on the tapes,” Mr. Kelly said. In truth, the question of whether Mr. Kelly had ever fixed a ticket came up well before the indictments were unsealed, because he has spent much of his adult life within the department, serving twice as commissioner. Some months ago, at the top of his regular e-mail list of press clippings, sent to 10,000 current and former officers, and others, Michael E. J. Bosak, a retired sergeant and police historian, focused on that question: “Where is Raymond Kelly in this mess?” he wrote. “He came up through the ranks — all the way up from a white shield patrolman in the 20 Precinct; sergeant in the 23 Pct.; lieutenant in the 10th Precinct, and captain in the 88 Precinct to police commissioner today. He’s knows how the system works; he is the system!” At that time, in the spring, Mr. Kelly declined an interview request, through a spokesman, citing the grand jury inquiry. “Whenever an allegation of ticket fixing came to the commissioner’s attention, it was pursued I.A.B.,” said the spokesman, Paul J. Browne, referring to the Internal Affairs Bureau. “And no, he never fixed a ticket or was party to fixing one.”
No Interdepartmental Subpoenas, Please
Commissioner Kelly makes plain his view on whether the Commission to Combat Police Corruption — a small city agency charged with monitoring the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau — deserves subpoena power: They do not, the commissioner believes. The question has come up repeatedly over the years as those who have tried to squeeze data from the department face roadblocks. In 2005, Mark F. Pomerantz, then chairman of the mayoral commission, told the City Council’s public safety committee that the commission had sought to review fraudulent claims for police overtime and sexual misconduct and domestic violence by officers, but was stymied by the department’s failure to provide information. The department insisted that the reviews were not within the panel’s mandate of examining corruption. Mr. Pomerantz said the panel would be more effective if it had subpoena power. In an interview that year, he told The New York Times that the panel also wanted to examine the integrity of the department’s crime statistics reporting following allegations that police commanders were downgrading some crimes to lesser offenses. On Nov. 2, Mr. Kelly said of that debate: “The argument we had was, ‘Hey, we all report to the same boss; if you want these documents we’ll give it to you.’ In other words, this is the mayor’s committee. You work for the mayor and we work for the mayor, so there was no need for subpoena power.” The following day, when several politicians called on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to create an independent commission to investigate what they contend is systemic corruption, a mayoral spokesman first referred the question back to the Police Department. After the police answered, however, the mayor’s office gave a similar answer of its own. The bottom line, the spokesman said: “There is absolutely no need to creating another layer of government here.” Al Baker, police bureau chief for The New York Times — and the son of a police lieutenant — brings you inside the nation’s largest police force every Thursday. Mr. Baker can be reached at OnePolicePlaza@nytimes.com.