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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Experts Say NYPD Isn’t Policing Itself

Experts Say N.Y. Police Dept. Isn’t Policing Itself
The New York Times by William K. Rashbaum, Joseph Goldstein and Al Baker - November 2, 2011

Seven narcotics investigators are convicted of planting drugs on people to meet arrest quotas. Eight current and former patrol officers are charged with smuggling guns into the state. Another is charged with making a false arrest, apparently as a favor for his cousin. Three more are convicted of robbing a perfume warehouse. All these cases involved New York City police officers and unfolded or were resolved in recent months. But beyond the fact of criminal charges against those sworn to protect the public, they all had another thing in common: Each case was uncovered by an outside agency, not the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department, the unit responsible for unearthing and investigating officers’ wrongdoing. This spate of unrelated corruption prosecutions, and what some see as the Internal Affairs Bureau’s spotty record of uncovering major cases involving crooked officers, raise questions about the department’s ability to police itself, said nearly a dozen current and former prosecutors who have handled corruption cases, as well as some current and former Internal Affairs supervisors and investigators. Several of them blamed a lack of effective outside oversight of the department’s anticorruption program, characterizing the monitoring as weak at best in recent years, with monitors having neither the political will to press the department nor support from City Hall. They also cited low starting salaries for new officers, poor morale, recruits drawn from a smaller pool of qualified candidates and a hidebound Internal Affairs Bureau bureaucracy. For his part, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly disputed any weaknesses in Internal Affairs, saying it was as aggressive as ever, if not more so, and noting that its ranks and budget had swelled even as the department’s manpower and budget had been cut back. He said Internal Affairs officers were front and center in making several of the recent cases. The case of the corrupt narcotics investigators — seven have been convicted, one on Wednesday at a trial where testimony suggested that such conduct was pervasive — was initially uncovered by the office of the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan, have uncovered other cases, and the case of the officers convicted in September of the armed robbery of the perfume warehouse was uncovered by the Carlstadt, N.J., police and the F.B.I.

Another sensational case that became public with the indictments of 16 officers last week — a long-running investigation of ticket-fixing in the Bronx — was indeed uncovered by Internal Affairs. But that was hardly a clean-cut coup. Several people involved in the matter said the bureau initially did not want to pursue the ticket case, directing investigators instead to focus more narrowly on a drug case against one officer that had prompted it. Police officials vehemently disputed that version of events. With the ticket-fixing indictments on Friday, and the announcement three days earlier of the charges accusing eight current and former officers of smuggling M-16 assault rifles, Commissioner Kelly twice found himself standing at news conferences talking about the arrests of officers. In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Kelly, joined by Chief Charles V. Campisi, the head of the Internal Affairs Bureau, said the budget for the bureau had risen to $66 million, from about $41 million in 2001. “We have increased the staffing in I.A.B., core I.A.B., we have increased it by over 100 from 2001 to the present,” Mr. Kelly said. He added, “The vast majority of cases I.A.B. does are initiated by I.A.B.” Mr. Kelly said previously that as a result of the ticket-fixing investigation, in which some officers were accused of altering their testimony in traffic court, he had assigned additional officers from other commands to monitor traffic court testimony. Chief Campisi said the officer who had been charged with making a false arrest for his cousin was already being investigated by Internal Affairs, though for a different matter, when the F.B.I. began investigating him. He said the case of the narcotics officers was, for the most part, an Internal Affairs case, even if the original arrests of falsely accused civilians first came under scrutiny by the Queens district attorney’s office. And Mr. Kelly and Mr. Campisi said that the Carlstadt department was first involved in investigating the perfume warehouse robbery only because the crime occurred there, and that as soon as the role of New York officers was revealed, Internal Affairs joined in. There is a tiny city agency responsible for monitoring the Internal Affairs Bureau: the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption. But it has no subpoena power — it must rely on the department’s good will, and its modest budget and staff of five are spread thin.

A new study by the Citizens Crime Commission in New York, provided by Richard Aborn, its president, shows that other major municipal police departments are overseen by agencies that do have subpoena power and can focus more broadly on misconduct. The chairman of the mayor’s commission, Michael F. Armstrong, served in the 1970s as the counsel to the Knapp Commission, which grew out of one of the Police Department’s worst scandals. Mr. Armstrong said he felt his current panel was doing an effective job and praised the department’s anticorruption efforts. But he acknowledged that the commission was significantly limited in what it could do. One former Internal Affairs Bureau investigator who was involved in scores of cases in recent years said the number of corruption complaints — “logs” in police parlance — had been on the rise, climbing to about 65,000 a year from about 45,000 a year in a little under a decade. The bureau’s top management classifies those complaints into three categories: “corruption,” the most serious; “misconduct,” which includes off-duty and less serious wrongdoing; and “outside guidelines” cases, the least serious. They are known as C, M and OG cases. While the number of C cases has hovered at about 1,000 a year for that entire period, the former Internal Affairs investigator said, many in Internal Affairs believe that number is kept artificially constant. “They hold steady miraculously,” said the former Internal Affairs investigator, who insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation. A number of current and former prosecutors said that the Internal Affairs Bureau, when it is brought in on a case, often provided invaluable assistance. Most added that they had never seen bureau supervisors or Chief Campisi, who starts work between 4 and 5 a.m., seek to cover up misconduct. Several praised his work and commitment. But others, and current and former Internal Affairs Bureau supervisors and investigators, said the crushing weight of its bureaucratic approach to investigations — put in place, they say, because officials feared criticism by the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption — kept it focused on small-bore cases and did more to generate paperwork than productive investigations. Current and former Internal Affairs investigators said very little of the bureau’s day-to-day effort was spent trying to identify corruption or spot worrisome trends and practices among the police. “We don’t have anything proactive where we can sit there and think like cops and track corruption,” the former Internal Affairs investigator said. “There is no real detective work going on.” The person added, “Everything in I.A.B. is all reactive.” The former Internal Affairs investigator said that nearly all investigative work was spent looking into the thousands of complaints it received each year, many of which were brought anonymously, often with the complainant unable to identify the suspect officers. While some logs look promising, others seem like dead-ends. But such cases are never closed after a cursory review, and even the least promising require months of intermittent investigation before they may be closed out. “No matter how outlandish it is,” the person said, “they’ll do a 60 or 70 page file on it.”

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