The NYPD's Schnorring Commissioners
May 2, 2016
Guess which top NYPD official has joined the Harvard Club? None other than Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Guess who picked up Bratton’s tab — listed in his 2014 financial disclosure form as between $5,000 to $47,999?
And guess how Bratton justified the Harvard perk in his filing? “Customary practice of Foundation to underwrite these costs for NYPD Commissioners,” he wrote.
Are you kidding? Paying up to $47,999 for Bratton at the Harvard Club is hardly customary. That practice began just a few years ago under Bratton’s predecessor, Ray Kelly. Firing the foundation’s longtime director, Kelly strong-armed it into paying his Harvard expenses. (The foundation also paid $400,000 to a consultant who served as Kelly’s personal public relations man while Kelly considered running for mayor.)
Two Bratton aides told this reporter that paying his Harvard expenses is a necessary feature of the job; that the Harvard Club serves as a convenient midtown spot where the commissioner can take business guests at relatively cheap prices.
The Police Foundation was founded as a good-government, anti-corruption measure after the Knapp Commissioner-era of police corruption of the early 1970s. But four decades later, this has changed.
One of Bratton’s many contributions to the NYPD was to turn the police commissioner into a celebrity. But celebrities tend to feel entitled. This has led over the past 20 years to some high-level schnorring — a Yiddish word that describes habitual begging with no intention of repaying.
That sense of entitlement led former Commissioner Howard Safir to accept a trip to the Oscars in Hollywood, plane fare and expenses paid for by Revlon Corp. Ditto Safir’s successor Bernie Kerik’s accepting $165,000 in free renovations from a company seeking city contracts. Safir was censured by the Conflicts of Interest board and forced to reimburse Revlon $7,100, the cost of the trip. Kerik went to federal prison.
Then there are Bratton and Kelly, piggybacking over each other in terms of both celebrity and schnorring.
In his first tour as commissioner in the 1990s, Bratton accepted free plane trips to Colorado and the Dominican Republic, courtesy of Wall Street financier Henry Kravis, which Mayor Rudy Giuliani used as an excuse to sack him.
Kelly flew to a Notre Dame football game on Regis Philbin’s private plane. Mayor Michael Bloomberg often dropped Kelly off in his private jet at Kelly’s second home in Deerfield Beach, Florida, en route to his walled compound in Bermuda.
So how does all this look to the department’s top brass when city rules forbid officials to accept gifts worth more than $50?
And what of the rank and file, who, since the Knapp Commission, can’t even accept a free cup of coffee? They see the top brass accepting favors while they earn what they consider to be minimum wage. God only knows what goes through their minds and what is going on out there in precincts all across the city.
But the problem, even with someone as dedicated as Bharara, is that prosecutors come to think of themselves as God-like. Bharara’s investigation into Corrections union head Norman Seabrook now seems focused on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election fundraising. But if what comes out of the investigation is but a violation of some esoteric election law that no average citizen understands or cares about, Bharara is doing little more than paralyzing city government because the mayor is not strong enough politically to push back.
On the other hand, Bharara’s investigation has revealed the historically corrupt relationship between the NYPD and the Hasidic community. Maybe that is justification enough.
There is a solution. As occurred after the Knapp Commission when uniformed cops were prohibited from arresting drug dealers for fear they would become corrupted, remove the NYPD from policing the 66th Precinct. Instead let the State Police do it. They can bring back Joe D’Amico, who recently retired as State Police superintendent in part because of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s threat — a tweak to de Blasio — to open a State Police barracks in the city.