Ray Kelly, Police Commissioner, and Brooklyn Councilman Al Vann Butt Heads Over ‘NYPD Tapes’ Series


Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and City Councilman Al Vann had a tense exchange yesterday at City Hall over the fallout stemming from the Village Voice series, “The NYPD Tapes.” New York Times police bureau chief Al Baker reports on the clash here.

During a City Council budget meeting, Vann, a veteran councilman representing Bedford-Stuyvesant, asked Kelly why he hasn’t responded to a letter the councilman and local clergy and other leaders sent the commissioner last week about issues raised in the Voice series, two city hall sources said. Like Kelly, Vann is a former U.S. Marine.

The series is based on tapes secretly recorded inside Bed Stuy’s 81st precinct over an 18 month period by Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. The tapes reveal the existence of ticketing quotas, questions about downgrading of crime complaints, and acute staffing shortages.

The tapes also reveal that officers were ordered to do stop and frisks just to hit statistical targets, and raise the question of whether precinct commanders gave orders which led to civili rights violations and violations of the due process and reasonable suspicion standards.

The series has been a matter of some concern among influential Bed-Stuy community leaders and politicians, particularly the civil rights and stop and frisk elements. At a meeting last month, they agreed to send a letter on the subject to Kelly. The contents of that letter are still unknown, but observers say it likely calls for the resignation of the 81st Precinct commander, Steven Mauriello, and makes other policy requests.

Kelly replied that the matter is under ongoing investigation, and that he had received the letter on Monday or Tuesday and hadn’t had enough time to review it.

Vann appeared to suggest that Kelly was downplaying the significance of the issue. Kelly bridled at that, saying he couldn’t expect a large agency to respond so quickly.

“You make allegations in that letter and I need to find out those facts before I respond,” Kelly told Vann according to the Times.

Vann replied that the audiotapes obtained by the Voice stood on their own, the Times said. “We didn’t make allegations,” he said. “We responded to what was on the tapes; this is not hearsay … You know what happened over there; we only responded to what is on the tapes; that cannot be denied.”

A city hall source noted: “The commissioner kind of skated around the question. Vann went back on into it, and they got into it a little bit.”

“They went back and forth on it,” another city hall source said.

The Times’ Baker quoted Vann as saying the series showed “how innocent citizens were victimized; innocent people were arrested for no cause at all; how some of their complaints had been suppressed.”

“I mean,” Vann told the Times, “the whole array of inappropriate and perhaps even illegal action. So we reiterated that which was on the tapes and then we asked for him to take appropriate action.”

Kelly’s spokesman Paul Browne acknowledged meanwhile that the tapes disclosed in the Voice have become part of an internal inquiry in the goings on at the 81st Precinct.