February 11, 2004

PBA: Kelly Should Get The Boot

By Leonard Levitt and Glenn Thrush Staff Writers

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said Tuesday that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had lost the confidence of the union's 23,000 members -- and called for his resignation.

With its 400 delegates hooting and rhythmically applauding his words, union head Patrick Lynch announced the results of the no-confidence vote, saying it was precipitated by Kelly characterizing a police shooting of an unarmed teenager as unjustified before the officer gave his account.

The officer, Richard Neri, is expected to testify today before a Brooklyn grand jury about the circumstances of the shooting of 19-year-old Timothy Stansbury on the roof of Louis Armstrong Houses in Brooklyn in the early morning of Jan. 24.

Lynch accused Kelly of prejudicing the grand jury by his remark, saying if Neri is indicted, Kelly will "shoulder much of the burden."

"The commissioner does not afford the benefit of a doubt to the very police officers who risk their lives to make this city safe," Lynch said at Antun's restaurant in Queens following the delegate meeting. "The message that commissioner Kelly has sent to New York City police officers is: do your job and risk your life, but you are on your own."

Paul Browne, the police department's deputy commissioner of public information, quickly released a statement: "By promptly and candidly reporting on the Stansbury shooting, the police commissioner performed a public service for police officers and the community alike. Some critics are too narrowly focused to appreciate that fact," it read.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters, "We should take a non-confidence vote in the PBA. We have the best police commissioner this city has ever seen. He's done exactly what's right. When he sees information, he puts it out. The public has a right to know…and this police commissioner has defended the police department better than anybody ever has. His record is impeccable. 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. We have nothing to hide."

While the PBA's call for a police commissioner's resignation is unusual, it is not unprecedented. In 1999, the union called for the resignation of Commissioner Howard Safir, accusing him in the wake of the police shooting of unarmed Amadou Diallo of placing cops' lives in danger by pressuring them to increase arrests and summonses.

At the time, some PBA officials attributed the union's stance to election politics, as then-president Jim Doc Savage faced election the following month. Safir retired the following year, although whether the union action played any role in his decision is unknown.

The current situation appears to be unique. First, internal union politics does not appear to have played a part in Lynch's decision, as he was re-elected to a second term just a few months ago. "He is truly expressing the anger of the rank and file," a union official said.

Second, unlike Safir, Kelly is extremely popular with the public, with approval ratings of nearly 70 per cent, nearly double those of Bloomberg. As Thomas Reppetto of the Citizens Crime Commission put it, "The vast majority of citizens have confidence in Kelly. Crime is down. The city is safe from terrorism and he has done this with fewer cops than before."