Ray Kelly's Gulag

Get on the NYPD commissioner's secret list, and you're going nowhere

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly keeps a secret list of police officers who cannot be transferred without his specific approval. The list, which the Voice obtained from an NYPD employee, is part of a 23-page spreadsheet that contains the names of 2,300 officers, their ranks, their ID numbers, old units, new units, and coded descriptions of thousands of personnel decisions throughout the past several years. Strangely, the document isn't marked with any police insignia or command titles.

In all, according to the list, Kelly banned transfers without his specific approval for at least 96 police officers over the past several years and rejected pending transfers for at least 59 more, which overrules his subordinates. He also transferred 228 officers to VIPER, where cops sit and stare at video screens to monitor crime in public housing—a unit seen as a dumping ground for those in trouble or out of favor, where careers can languish for years. Hundreds more names on the list are of officers "transferred for cause," or sent to another command for some transgression, which could be anything from serious misconduct to irritating a commander.

Most of the officers who made the list don't know that the commissioner essentially froze their careers in place, in what some department insiders say is Kelly's version of the city's notorious former "rubber room" system for teachers awaiting adjudication of their cases, where they were asked to sit indefinitely in classrooms away from students. Others call the list Kelly's "gulag," a way of punishing officers without forcing them to retire or quit.

Flickr - Howard N2GOT Brier
Flickr - NYC Arthur

Once a name goes on the list, it doesn't come off, even after years have passed and an officer has been brought back into the fold—a circumstance that someone likened to being forced to wear a scarlet letter for the duration of his or her career. In its stark, clipped language, the secret spreadsheet offers a rare insight into how the department is run by Kelly, who will soon become the city's longest-serving police commissioner. It also might give an indication of how he would run the city if he runs for and is elected mayor.

Most importantly, the list confirms Kelly's reputation as a micromanager who reviews just about every transfer that takes place in the largest police department in the country.

Paul Browne, a police spokesman, did not respond to Voice requests for a discussion of the spreadsheet.

Ray Kelly has a big job, overseeing 40,000 employees and a multibillion-dollar budget larger than that of at least five states. But he is apparently also involved in many decisions that used to be delegated to subordinates.

To put it in context, prior to Kelly, police commissioners did not bother with low-level, routine transfers.

"In the old days, the police commissioner didn't get involved in that," says a former Kelly staffer. "The borough commanders would call each other and say, 'I need to move a guy,' or, 'I need a guy from Precinct X.' Kelly centralized all of that."

Insiders attribute Kelly's involvement in these decisions to the behavior of his predecessor, Bernard Kerik, who, over Kelly's objections, promoted a large number of his NYPD cronies during his last days in office.

The source says that he often saw Kelly come into his 14th-floor office at One Police Plaza on Sunday afternoons to pore over transfer requests and related documents.

That's a different image than the one Kelly himself has been promoting lately as his department is hit with a series of corruption cases. Kelly has put these problems down to a "few bad apples," as if there were things going sour in his department that he was unaware of.

Murray Weiss, a respected longtime police reporter now writing for DNAinfo, recently noted that the "bad apple approach may deflect a troublesome story, but it has insidious shortcomings. It sends the message that the NYPD is a closed society that will protect its own."

The spreadsheet illustrates, however, that Kelly is even more hands-on than he lets on with individual police officers he considers problematic in some way. In this story, we have looked at some of the many decisions Kelly has made that are indicated in the spreadsheet. In some cases, we do not have a complete set of facts or history to explain Kelly's decisions. For that reason, the Voice is withholding some names that appear on the list.

One of the officers designated "do not transfer without PC approval" is James Albertelli, who was indicted in 2005 on bribery and coercion charges when he was assigned to the 13th Precinct in Manhattan.

But in 2006, he was acquitted of all charges, and Patrolmen's Benevolent Association boss Patrick Lynch called it a "politically motivated case." "With nothing more than a bogus complaint and no evidence, the DA's office charged two honorable police officers in a successful attempt to generate pre-election publicity," Lynch said.

And then, in January 2008, Albertelli was transferred to the 111th Precinct with the notation "Don't move again without PC approval."

Was that failed indictment enough to plant the scarlet letter on Albertelli for the rest of his career? Did he get in trouble for something else?

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