Philip T. Walzak, who spent years as a close aide to Mayor de Blasio, was appointed last week as Deputy Police Commissioner for Public Information, drawing a blast from two police unions and a note of warning from a third.
“This is the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD’s primary mission is to serve as a political tool, not protect public safety for all New Yorkers,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement after the appointment was announced March 19.
Part of 2 Campaigns
Mr. Walzak was director of communications for Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign, then served as Press Secretary from 2014 to 2015 and Senior Adviser for Strategic Planning from 2015 to 2016. He left City Hall to manage the 2017 re-election campaign.
An announcement from the NYPD said that at City Hall Mr. Walzak had worked with Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill on announcing news when Mr. O’Neill was Chief of Department, “and they quickly established a strong rapport.”
Mr. O’Neill said in the announcement, “Phil showed me he is level-headed, dedicated and thoroughly experienced. He understands the NYPD’s vital mission to maintain New York’s stature as the safest large city in America.”
Fears Political Tint
But Mr. Lynch said, “With the Mayor’s former campaign manager now overseeing information given to the press—including the body-worn-camera footage that the Mayor and the Police Commissioner have pledged to release in violation of state law—how can either police officers or the public have any confidence that it will be dispensed with an eye towards safety and justice and not filtered through a purely political lens?”
The PBA recently sued the Police Department, saying the release of body-camera footage violated a state law that requires disciplinary records of police officers be kept secret unless an officer agrees to the release or a judge orders it.
Mr. Lynch has fought with Mr. de Blasio on a range of matters, particularly police salaries, which the union maintains are substantially below those of other departments in the metropolitan area and nationally.
Mr. de Blasio’s office disagreed, arguing that fringe-benefit advantages, including a $12,000 annual Variable Supplements Fund payment for those who retired after at least 20 years on the job, significantly narrow the gap.
SBA Also Critical
Edward D. Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, was skeptical as well about Mr. Walzak's appointment. “Of the many highly talented media personalities in the selection pool, it seems the Commissioner expects us all to believe the Mayor’s Office had the best people,” he told the New York Post. “I guess we will see if the NYPD’s communications are separate from City Hall and this was in fact the Commissioner’s choice as claimed.”
Mr. Mullins has clashed with Mr. O’Neill. The union leader recently charged the Commissioner refused to talk to him out of pique over his criticism that he had rushed to judgment on Sgt. Hugh Barry, who was suspended and criminally indicted after shooting a mentally-ill woman who threatened him with a baseball bat. Sergeant Barry was acquitted at trial.
Mr. Mullins was also angered by the decision to place Sgt. Kizzy Adonis, the patrol supervisor, on modified duty after the death of Eric Garner when no other cop at the scene was punished.
Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, also sounded a word of caution. He told the Post that he had his “antennas up.”
“Despite a new community-policing model and record-low crime rates, cops have not been appreciated as of late and he will now be in a position to change that,” Mr. Palladino said. “I hope he is prepared.”
A Note of Support
Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association, called Mr. Walzak a “good choice” by Mr. O’Neill. “He cares deeply about the NYPD and appreciates the risk and sacrifice cops make every day,” Mr. Richter said in a tweet.
Mr. Walzak will begin his new job in early April. He succeeds Stephen Davis, a former Captain who announced his retirement in March after more than four years in the post.
“These are definitely big shoes to fill—and I can think of no greater privilege than to work every day on behalf of the people of NYC & one of the most-recognizable law-enforcement agencies in the world,” Mr. Walzak said in a tweet.