By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
In February 2007, a Brooklyn jury sided with Aiken, acquitting him on charges of attempted criminal possession of stolen property and attempted grand larceny. Nevertheless, Aiken, 40, was fired in December after an NYPD judge found him guilty of similar departmental charges stemming from the IAB investigation. Aiken has since filed a $15 million suit against the NYPD for wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
As for the number of cops arrested for crimes, it's tough to say whether it's an "aberration"—as Commissioner Ray Kelly calls it every time a cop is arrested—or a trend. In October, the New York Post, citing the NYPD's "Internal Affairs Bureau 2006 Annual Report," said that arrests of NYPD officers rose from 91 in 2005 to 114 in 2006, a 25 percent hike. It also said that officers placed on modified duty for disciplinary reasons rose 55 percent, from 137 to 212. Interestingly, at the same time, the number of cops suspended fell 11 percent, from 159 to 142.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne didn't respond to a request from the Voice to provide this or any of the other IAB annual reports. Nor did he respond to a request to provide the number of police officers arrested in each of the past five years.
Asked about the apparent rash of current corruption cases and the fact that the IAB doesn't seem to have played a role in most of them, Councilman Vallone replies: "When we have our next hearing, we may be able to ask about that." Vallone spokesman Andrew Moesel says the Public Safety Committee "does not regularly receive anything from IAB" but does hold periodic "oversight" meetings.
Vallone says he doesn't know whether the number of cops being arrested is rising or whether such events are just being reported more in the press. "I just want to clarify that we do oversight—we don't do police investigations," he says, adding with a laugh: "I'm not able to send undercover council members into precincts."
But other watchdogs aren't necessarily laughing. In the past, police administrators have stonewalled the city agency set up to study police corruption. The Commission to Combat Police Corruption (CCPC) was created in February 1995 after a highly publicized police-corruption probe by the Mollen Commission, which recommended a fully staffed official watchdog bureau. The Mollen Commission said such an independent oversight agency should include a full-time staff of about 20 lawyers and investigators. The CCPC has never come close to having that—instead, as one former board member described it, "it's just a fig leaf." The CCPC has only two full-time paid staffers, a pocket-change budget of $422,000, no investigators, and no direct subpoena power.
CCPC chairman Mark Pomerantz told the City Council on April 30, 2005, that because police officials know the CCPC lacks the authority to investigate such issues as abuse in police overtime pay and falsifying crime statistics, the NYPD simply ignores the commission's requests for records. "We write letters, we have meetings, and nothing happens," Pomerantz told the council. The next day, he resigned. He declined to talk to the Voice about his tenure with the CCPC .
Last week, 22 months since the CCPC issued its previous "annual" report, the agency released another one. Among its conclusions was that "IAB investigations continue to be conducted in a thorough and effective manner." But the devil's in the report's details, which don't back up that conclusion.
The commission noted that some cases dried up because IAB investigators were too slow to contact complainants or witnesses. When it came to cops and alcohol abuse, the CCPC chose to examine 35 investigations of off-duty officers in which alcohol was directly related, such as DUI arrests, or indirectly related, such as cops getting into bar fights. In nine of those 35 cases, the commission found that no alcohol-related charges were filed even though they should have been. In the 35 cases, at least 11 of the cops were armed. But that number could be higher, because in the other 24 cases, there's no indication either way in the IAB paperwork whether the cops were carrying guns. Any officer who was could be fired from the force.
The commission also looked at nine cases in which cops improperly displayed or fired their weapons and found that in eight of the nine cases, the IAB made no determination of the officers' "fitness for duty" and didn't note whether any of them had been drinking.
Though he has long been an advocate of providing the CCPC with more teeth, current chairman Michael Armstrong insists that the IAB "appears to function very smoothly and very professionally" and that "the current conditions don't cry out for a change now." Armstrong says he met with the IAB early last month and was briefed on the ongoing cases. "It's not fair to say that all the recent cases were made without IAB's involvement," says Armstrong. "It's often the fact that the IAB people are the ones that develop the case. Then they give it to another law-enforcement agency or a prosecutor and step back" without getting the credit.
As to whether he thinks there's a spate of cop crimes right now, Armstrong says: "The flurry in the press is often just that."