Bratton mum if his comments about NYPD corruption call for new public investigative commission

By LOUIS FLORES

Revelations from the wide-ranging Federal investigation into the New York Police Department have made Commissioner William Bratton to conclude that the corruption by senior officers at the police department was comparable to the 1970’s, when whistleblower Frank Serpico exposed systemic crime at the police force.

“You’d have to probably go back to the Knapp Commission days to find one that has that focus on the senior leadership of the department,” said Commissioner Bratton during an interview with the Editorial Board of The New York Post, as noted in a news report, referring to the 1970’s investigation of the NYPD as an example that was equivalent with the current Federal corruption investigation of the NYPD.

It is not known if Commissioner Bratton was calling for the appointment of another, similar public commission to investigate the NYPD. A request for clarification made by Progress Queens to the deputy commissioner for public information at the NYPD was not answered.

Commissioner Bratton's reference to the Knapp Commission, an investigative body that was appointed in 1970 by then Mayor John Lindsay (R-New York City), was foreboding, nonetheless. The commission was chaired by Judge Whitman Knapp, taking his name. It found systemic corruption at the NYPD, leading to spectacular public hearings that were broadcast on television, prosecutions, and some reforms, including the appointment by then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R-New York) of a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute police officers, district attorneys, and judges for misconduct. However, those reforms or their effect were short-lived.

In 1992, under then Mayor David Dinkins (D-New York City), another panel was formed to, again, investigate allegations of systemic corruption at the NYPD. The committee former Mayor Dinkins empaneled was known as the Mollen Commission, taking its name from its chair, Judge Milton Mollen. Once again, investigators discovered systemic corruption, particularly that involved almost the entirety of some precinct station houses, finding that the NYPD had “tolerated a culture that fostered misconduct and concealed lawlessness by police officers,” leading to the prosecution of some police officers, and some reforms.

Before information about the reported, current Federal corruption investigation into the NYPD spilled across the front pages of the city’s newspapers, Commissioner Bratton had kept down-playing the relentless series of controversies at the NYPD, from claims that the efficacy of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a disciplinary oversight body, was compromised ; criticism about the lack of internal mechanisms to hold police officers accountable for excessive use of force, including deadly use of force ; ongoing community backlash to race-based policing tactics ; and claims that police officers have been manipulating crime statistics.

In respect of the current investigation, it has been noted that up to 20 police officers have been questioned by Federal law enforcement agents about misconduct that involved accepting travel, precious gems, free meals, and lucrative investment opportunities in exchange for providing police services to private citizens. In the past, whenever police officers have been allowed to earn outside income in addition to their public salary, that has created the possibility of corruption.

Questions about Bratton's role in fostering the current culture at the NYPD

To critics of Commissioner Bratton, the Federal corruption investigation and the reported scale of wrongdoing are the byproduct of his own management.

"Bratton should know why the department is so corrupt. He's enabled it in two different administrations now,” said Josmar Trujillo, a member of the a police reform group, New Yorkers Against Bratton, adding of Commissioner Bratton, “His resistance to the Mollen Commission and his dismissal of Walter Mack in 1995 point to a commissioner who covers up corruption and stymies investigators. Corrupt cops love Bratton."

Mr. Trujillo was referring to Mr. Mack, who, as the then deputy commissioner for internal affairs, had pointed to possible corruption at other precinct station houses similar in nature as those found by investigators from the Mollen Commission. However, Commissioner Bratton, during his term under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R-New York City), dismissed Deputy Commissioner Mack’s concerns. Then, Commissioner Bratton went a step further by dismissing Deputy Commissioner Mack. Commissioner Bratton also opposed a central reform recommended by the Mollen Commission, which was the creation of a permanent commission to investigate the NYPD and to monitor its Internal Affairs Bureau. In the past, the predecessor unit to the Internal Affairs Bureau had been found to be corrupt by the Knapp Commission, and, in the time since, some serious investigations that the Internal Affairs Bureau had conducted were reportedly mishandled.

In an article Mr. Trujillo published today in The Huffington Post, Mr. Trujillo wrote that Commissioner Bratton has “dragged his feet” to deal with reports of corruption taking place at the NYPD.

Writing of the litany of controversies at the NYPD, Mr. Trujillo wrote, in relevant part, “The key point here is that this isn’t just a few bad apples or a lapse in judgement. It’s systemic.”

In his article, Mr. Trujillo noted that, “If the NYPD has nothing to hide then a deeper and more transparent gaze into what makes the department tick shouldn’t be a problem,” adding that “another Mollen-like investigation is warranted.”

Some police reform activists have, indeed, been asking for the creation of a new public commission to investigate the NYPD. Yet, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) has ignored such requests, despite each of his authority to create such a commission and the reported prevalence of police corruption. In the face of Mayor de Blasio’s resistance, some police reform activists have asked that any of Commissioner Bratton, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. (D-Manhattan), then FBI New York Field Office Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara consider appointing such a commission under their respective authorities, but, likewise, none have made such a commitment.

One unknown factor is whether the current, reported Federal corruption investigation into the NYPD explains any resistance to the creation of a new public commission.

In 2015, Progress Queens twice has asked the office of U.S. Attorney Bharara to address increasing questions about the pattern of misconduct at the NYPD.

In November 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would not answer a request for comment about a report that Federal prosecutors had dismissed concerns made by a whistleblower that commanders in the 100th Precinct station house in Far Rockaway, Queens, were downgrading reports of crimes in order to artificially lower the reporting of major crimes.

In January 2015, Progress Queens asked U.S. Attorney Bharara during the question and answer period following a 2015 speech at New York Law School about whether his office would consider forming a committee of prosecutors to review the NYPD for possible reforms, similar to what his office successfully did about Rikers Island.

Notwithstanding the questions surrounding the NYPD at that time then, U.S. Attorney Bharara said that he thought that there was sufficient supervision over the NYPD. “With respect to the New York City Police Department, I think -- my sense is, is that there are a lot of people looking at that. There’s now, you know, an inspector general. There are court decrees. There’s a continuing court case,” U.S. Attorney Bharara said, adding that, “There have been times when the Southern District of New York and some other U.S. Attorney’s Offices, in the Eastern District of New York some years ago, thought it made sense to take a deeper look, because of things that were going on, and, if that ever happens, we don’t hesitate to do so.”

In his 2015 response, U.S. Attorney Bharara repeated his assertion that the existing supervision over the NYPD was sufficient by describing his respect for each of former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and current Commissioner Bratton. “I had a great relationship with Ray Kelly. I have a great relationship with Commissioner Bratton. I think that they are both unbelievably strong and good and smart and lawful and caring public servants,” U.S. Attorney Bharara said, qualifying his praise with, “That doesn’t mean that there’s not sometimes some bad things that go on there. And Commissioner Kelly acknowledged that, when he had to, and Commissioner Bratton acknowledges that. And if there ever comes a time, as I’ve said before, we’re not scared of anybody, and, you know, we look at our partners as partners. But when they cross the line, we take appropriate action there also.”

If Federal law enforcement officials have decided to review the NYPD under the cloak of the confidential proceedings of a Federal criminal investigation, then public officials will be acting in contravention to the precedents set by each of the Knapp and Mollen commissions and would be violating the recommendations by the Mollen Commission, and the public will lose access to necessary public hearings, public reports, and public recommendations produced by thepublic commission that activists and reform groups are proposing. It is this transparency that several police reform groups are demanding, Progress Queens has learned.