March 22, 2004

PBA head claims warning on crime stats

By Rocco Parascandola and Leonard Levitt Staff Writers

The head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said Monday he had warned Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that officers feared crime statistics at a Bronx precinct were being downgraded.

PBA president Patrick Lynch, reacting to a Newsday report that addressed some officers' concerns about how Deputy Inspector Thomas DiRusso, former commander of the 50th Precinct, classified certain felonies, said Kelly never responded to a letter he wrote last May.

During DiRusso's three-year tenure as the northwest Bronx precinct's top officer, crime dropped nearly 26 precinct, more than most commands in the city.

City Councilman Oliver Koppell, the Democrat who represents the area, said DiRusso did "an effective job."

"He was very involved," Koppell said. "He did very well."

But Newsday reported Monday that three officers who worked for DiRusso say the drop — especially in contrast with the 11-percent increase in the three months since he left the precinct to head Brooklyn South Narcotics — was not completely legitimate.

They say DiRusso, and the supervisors who worked under him, looked for ways to reclassify felonies as misdemeanors, questioning victims again and again, sometimes to the point where they felt badgered.

The sources also said some victims were never able to get reports taken. One woman says the precinct refused to take a report after she was threatened at knifepoint. Another crime victim said he was sent home after being assaulted and told to call police if he saw his attackers. Two days later, he spotted the suspects. Police made the arrest, but never mentioned in the incident report that the victim had reported the initial assault.

DiRusso, now head of Brooklyn South Narcotics, has refused requests for comment. Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman, said DiRusso "is a good honest commander who is being slandered."

"The underlying premise here is false," Browne said. "Regardless of what the PBA says, the inspector is not suppressing numbers.

Newsday also reported that Lt. Bridge Banuchi in November 2002 got in trouble when she reduced the amount stolen from a Genovese drug store to $500, from $1,815. She also forged the store manager's signature on the complaint. Banuchi was eventually given a command discipline and lost a few days pay, then transferred.

Officer Maureen Morgan, the cop who initially responded to the incident, refused Banuchi's order to downgrade the report and was transferred to a foot post. When Officer Joe Anthony, the precinct's union delegate, complained on Morgan's behalf, he was reassigned in February 2003 to Queens.

Lynch wrote a May 9, 2003 letter to Kelly, saying, "We believe that this transfer was precipitated by the delegate taking a position regarding the wrongful downgrading of crime classifications and retaliation against police officers who protest against participating in the practice."

Morgan was eventually moved back to a patrol car. Anthony now works at another precinct in the Bronx and is suing over the move.