The Chief
February 20, 2004

PBA Calls For Kelly to Resign Over ‘Betrayal’

Mayor Says Top Cop Was Right to Label Shooting Dubious

By Richard Steier

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegates Feb. 10 unanimously voted to demand Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s resignation, claiming they had lost confidence in his leadership because he had taken several actions they viewed as anti-cop.

Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly’s chief spokesman both defended the conduct that was the primary source of the union’s wrath: the Commissioner’s treatment that there appeared to be “no justification” for the shooting of a black teenager by a white officer on the roof of a Brooklyn housing project Jan. 24.

‘He Won’t Back Us’

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch told reporters at a Queens catering hall where the delegate vote was taken that Mr. Kelly’s statement sent a message that “when all goes wrong and there’s a tragedy, you will not have the backing of the Police Commissioner of the NYPD.”

As a result, Mr. Lynch said, “Morale is at an all-time low” among the 23,000 cops he represents.

Mr. Bloomberg responded by criticizing the union while calling Mr. Kelly “the best police commissioner this city has seen. He’s done exactly what’s right. When he sees information, he puts it out. Cover-ups are not in anybody’s interest – and it’s certainly not in the interest of the world’s greatest police department not to go out there and be open.

The Mayor is among those who contended the Mr. Kelly’s forthright assessment helped defuse a potentially explosive racial situation while a grand jury in Brooklyn considers whether Police Officer Richard Neri should be criminally charged.

‘Did a Public Service’

NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne argued following the PBA “no-confidence” vote that easing tensions as Mr. Kelly did with his statement had benefited cops as well as calming minority residents who were aggrieved by the incident.

“By promptly and candidly reporting on the Stansbury shooting, the Police Commissioner performed a public service,” Mr. Browne stated. “Some critics are too narrowly focused to appreciate that fact.”

Delegates who were interviewed following the vote, however, asserted that there would not have been major racial unrest in the city if Mr. Kelly and the Mayor had merely asked the public to be patient while the facts of the case were sorted out.

When you’re making a statement just to prevent a potential problem, it’s unfair and it’s not right,” said Lance Cello, a delegate from the 60th Precinct in Coney Island with 13 years on the job. “A court finds whether it’s justification, a jury finds whether it’s justification; not the Commissioner.”

Michael Ryan, an African-American PBA delegate in Transit District 4, and Paul Salzbach, a delegate from Midtown North, both said they didn’t believe there would have been unrest if Mr. Kelly had reserved judgment on the shooting. “I think he might have panicked given the racial tensions in the city in past years,” Officer Ryan said.

Kelly’s Justification

In a letter he sent to Mr. Lynch five day’s prior to the PBA vote, Mr. Kelly noted that after telling reporters 11 hours after the incident at Louis Armstrong Houses that “there appears to be no justification for this shooting,” he pointed out that the NYPD had not yet gotten a statement from Officer Neri.

Mr. Kelly reminded the PBA president that he had swiftly come to the defense of cops involved in three separate fatal shootings on the first day of 2003 before those cases had been fully investigated as well.

“As in the Stansbury case, there were some eager to poison police and community relations with distorted and enflamed rhetoric about these incidents,” the Police Commissioner said in the letter. “It was important to set the record straight as quickly as possible.”

‘A Special Obligation’

He continued, “When a police shooting results in a loss of life, there is a special obligation on the Police Department to make the facts known, especially if the victim is unarmed. “Having lived through a era when officers were frequently the target of reprisals after such controversies, I am mindful that an honest and timely exposition of the facts can go a long way in safeguarding officers on patrol, as well as in the community.

Mr. Lynch and his delegates, however, had little use for those explanations, echoing the sentiments of some rank-and-file cops immediately after the Stansbury shooting that the Police Commissioner wasn’t backing officers who routinely risk their lives in dangerous patrol assignments.

The delegates at the union meeting in Antun’s Restaurant in Queens Village cheered loudly as members of the PBA executive board trooped into a banquet room carrying boxes labeled “Affidavits of No Confidence in Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.”

Mr. Lynch said the message conveyed to cops by Mr. Kelly’s “no justification” statement was, “take all the risks of doing your job, go up on all those subway platforms, walk the streets day and night, take the risks to yourself, take the risks to your family, but when the worst happens, when there’s a tragedy, that you will not have the backing of the New York Police Commissioner.”

‘Uncomplicated’ Case

Mr. Kelly had noted that at the time he make his comment, police investigators had already spoken to Officer Neri’s partner and civilian witnesses including the two young men who had been with Mr. Stansbury as he climbed the stairs to the project roof where the fatal confrontation occurred.

He said that a consensus had emerged among top officials on the scene, including the Chief of Department, that “this was an uncomplicated case in which no substantive discrepancies had emerged” from the witness accounts.

Mr. Lynch, however, noted the Officer Neri was not scheduled to go before the grand jury examining the case until Feb. 12 and said, “You cannot put the final piece to this puzzle until that police officers speaks.”

After the PBA president stated that patrol cops had restored a sense of safety to the city before either Mr. Kelly or Mr. Bloomberg took office in 2002, delegates began chanting, “Kelly must go! Kelly must go!”

When a reporter asked whether there was anything the Police Commissioner could do to regain cops’ confidence, on delegate called out, “He’s a puppet!”

Cites Other Frustrations

Mr. Lynch said the no-confidence vote was also taken because of frustration with what he claimed were Mr. Kelly’s attempts to discourage the Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police forces from hiring NYPD officers who were attracted by the superior salaries paid by those departments.

“They pay their police officers as professionals, and they back ‘em when all else goes wrong,” Mr. Lynch said.

He also accused Commissioner Kelly of trying to influence Port Authority officials not to approve a recent seven-year contract with their police union that raises salaries by 25 percent, because it would further spur an exodus from the NYPD.

Deputy Commissioner Browne said of the charge that Commissioner Kelly had interfered with cops’ attempts to move on, “That was rather mystifying, since [Mr. Lynch] never raised it with him.” As to Mr. Lynch’s claim that the Commissioner got involved in the Port Authority wage talks, he said, “I have no idea where he’s coming from.”

Turnover an Irritant

It has been a source of frustration for more than one Police Commissioner that superior salaries in neighboring jurisdictions, notable Nassau and Suffolk counties, have caused the NYPD to lose experienced officers after it took the time and money to screen them, train them, and then develop them into capable cops.

The city has been limited in its ability to raise salaries enough to be competitive with those departments by the traditional bargaining relationships between the PBA and other city unions. Any increase in compensation for cops must be matched for firefighters, a concern that does not extend to the governments for Nassau and Suffolk, where fire service is generally provided by volunteers.

Mr. Lynch said that officers were leaving the NYPD in large numbers for better conditions in cities as distant as Las Vegas.