Chief-Leader
October 1, 2013

 

COBA Head: Need Minority Police Commissioner to Right NYPD Ship

Police Unions Say Race Shouldn’t Be Factor

By MARK TOOR

 

PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Best-qualified’ only criterion.

 

Norman Seabrook, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, called Sept. 27 for the next Mayor to name a Police Commissioner of color.

“I’d like to see the next Mayor, whoever he may be, appoint a minority Commissioner,” he said in an interview with THE CHIEF-LEADER. “If you’re going to have change in this city, you must appoint a minority Police Commissioner.”

Cites 2 Top Officials

As possibilities he mentioned Philip Banks III, the current Chief of Department, and Rafael Pineiro, the First Deputy Commissioner.

“Phil Banks would be at the top of my list to fill the shoes of [current Commissioner] Raymond W. Kelly,” he said. “Who’s better to do the job than a man with four stars who worked his way up the ranks?”

“We need a Police Commissioner of color going right into the belly of the beast and saying to these gangbangers that we need change,” said Mr. Seabrook, who earlier this year tried to persuade Mr. Kelly to run for Mayor.

The Police Department and its stop-and-frisk program have been at the center of a racial divide in the city. Stop-and-frisk has stopped hundreds of thousands of people a year, 87 percent of them black and Latino men. A similar percentage of those stopped are released without charges or a summons.

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled in August that the program was operated in an unconstitutional fashion, with the NYPD using race and ethnicity as factors in targeting people for stops. The city is appealing.

The Case for Banks

Mr. Seabrook noted that Mr. Banks has said he was the subject of a stop-and-frisk years ago. “Banks comes out of Queens and knows what we’re talking about,” he said.

The COBA leader said it was important to weigh in on the PC issue early in the campaign. “You just can’t take the law-enforcement community for granted,” he warned the candidates.

He said his union’s endorsement in the mayoral race will depend on a pledge by one or both candidates to put a person of color in the spot.

Republican nominee Joseph J. Lhota said through his spokeswoman that he wants Mr. Kelly to stay on. Democrat Bill de Blasio did not respond by presstime, but he has mentioned Chief Banks as one of his possible choices, as well as former Commissioner William J. Bratton.

Ivy League Oversight

Mr. Seabrook said the idea of a minority Police Commissioner occurred to him after Judge Scheindlin appointed a panel of Ivy League law professors, many of them white, to advise on changes in the Police Department to bring stop-and-frisk into compliance with the law.

He recalled that the city’s most-recent black Police Commissioner was Lee P. Brown, who served under Mayor David Dinkins from 1990-92. Mr. Brown, who had been Chief of Police in Houston, Texas, shifted the NYPD to a community-policing model. This gave officers responsibility for solving problems on their beats, not just chasing crimes. The approach eventually succeeded in driving down crime.

Critics referred to him as “Out of Town Brown” because he spent a significant amount of time in Houston caring for his cancer-stricken wife. He also drew criticism for his handling of the Crown Heights riots, which were sparked when a Hasidic driver who ran a red light lost control of his vehicle and struck and fatally injured a young black child.

Mr. Brown’s passive response—for which he was privately chastised by Mr. Dinkins, according to the former Mayor’s recently-released autobiography, and publicly by a 1993 state commission—left a leadership vacuum during which black and Jewish residents clashed for three days. Eventually, Mr. Kelly, who was then First Deputy Commissioner without direct authority over the uniformed force, sent officers in to retake the streets.

The city’s only other black PC was Benjamin Ward, who was appointed by Mayor Ed Koch in 1984 and retired in 1989. Mr. Ward served 15 years in the NYPD, rising to the rank of Lieutenant, before leaving in 1966 to run the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He returned in 1968 to serve in various Deputy Commissioner posts. He also worked as city Traffic Commissioner, state Corrections Commissioner and city Correction Commissioner before taking over the Police Department.

“There are children in New York today who don’t know we’ve ever had a black Police Commissioner,” Mr. Seabrook said.

Cop Unions: Wrong Criteria

The presidents of the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants Benevolent Associations disagreed with Mr. Seabrook, saying the appointment should be based on qualifications, not race or ethnicity.

“The Police Commissioner selection should be based on finding the best-qualified person—nothing more and nothing less,” said Patrick J. Lynch of the PBA. “The Police Department is facing serious obstacles in a very anti-police atmosphere that requires the best leadership available who will actually lead the men and women of the NYPD. We can assume that all is well in Corrections if they are focusing on our Commissioner and department and not their own.”

Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said, “At the end of the day, the best candidate should get the job, regardless of race or sex. That should be the thinking of the next Mayor, and that should be the thinking of rational people.”