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The NYPD’s Tricky Hispanic Politics

July 13, 2009

Hispanic politics can be a tricky business inside the NYPD.

Last week, this column published excerpts of a love letter from the department’s Hispanic Society, praising Commissioner Ray Kelly for promoting record numbers of Hispanic officers.

“Prior to 2002, no other police commissioner has been as dedicated as Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly regarding the advancement and promotion of Hispanics,” the letter said.

Is it a coincidence that the Hispanic Society’s president, Jeff Stella, has a plush job in the Intelligence Division, or that the Society’s First Vice-President Daniel Coats has a coveted spot on Kelly’s security detail?

However, the Hispanic Society has a rival, the Latino Officers Association, which broke with the Hispanic Society over its endorsement of mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani in 1993. The LOA maintains a critical view of the department, and of Kelly.

Is it a coincidence that the Latino Officers Association president, Robert Gonzalez, was passed over for the prestigious 10-week course at the FBI Academy in Quantico Virginia?

Or that last month, Gonzalez was — depending on who you believe — nearly, or briefly, suspended after refusing an order to leave the Apollo Theater during a training session for police recruits.

Sources say it took Al Sharpton, of all people, to straighten out the squabble.

For over a decade, the LOA has won numerous lawsuits in federal court against the department.

In 1999, the group won the right to march in uniform in the Hispanic Day Parade. In 2001, the court granted its request to hold news conferences on non-confidential police matters without the department’s prior approval.

LOA members also began suing the department for job discrimination — and winning huge sums.

LOA founder Anthony Miranda won for $96,000.

Hiram Monserrate — yes, our famous flip-flopping, alleged girlfriend-beating, state senator, who was formerly a cop and founding member of the LOA — won $107,973.

Sgt. Gil Alvarez sued and won twice: first $62,500, then $400,000.

In 2004, the LOA hit the jackpot, winning a $26.8-million discrimination settlement, based largely on the discipline and promotion practices of Giuliani and his former police commissioner Howard Safir.

The group has been no less sparing of Kelly. Gonzalez has criticized him for not appointing Latino deputy commissioners, failing to appoint Latina officers above the rank of captain, and not having “Latino bureau chiefs involved in a crime-fighting capacity.”

The LOA has also criticized as Hispanic musical chairs Kelly’s recent promotion of Hispanic Chief James Tuller from head of Manhattan South to the Chief of the Transportation Bureau and replacing him with another Hispanic chief, Raymond Diaz, who is soon to retire.

Police sources say Gonzalez complained to Stella about the shuffle and that Stella said he would schedule a meeting with Kelly.

Gonzalez, a lieutenant, has taken his lumps. In 2004, he complained he had been discriminated against when the department passed him over for the FBI Academy class in favor of another lieutenant, William Taylor — who happened to be the son of a white, two-star chief.

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Then Deputy Commissioner of Training James Fyfe assured LOA founder Miranda that Taylor’s selection had been based on merit, not on internal politics, third-party phone calls, letters, or connections.

Kelly, Fyfe wrote to Miranda, “even voided all nominations that were then pending so that we could institute an objective and tamper-proof system.”

The FBI subsequently dismissed Taylor from its program for misconduct, citing excessive drinking, consorting with a married woman, and publicly bad-mouthing the FBI at a restaurant in Little Italy.

Gonzalez’s troubles with the police brass have continued, veering into crisis mode on June 18 when he tried to enter a VIP room at the Apollo Theater, where Kelly and other officials had gathered during a sensitivity training course for police recruits, following the so-called “friendly fire” death of Omar Edwards, an off-duty black police officer.

Friends of Gonzalez, who is assigned to the Police Academy, say he claimed he was purposely slighted when Deputy Commissioner of Training Wilbur Chapman told Gonzalez he had not been invited into the VIP room. Gonzalez answered that he was there as the head of the LOA.

According to police sources, Inspector Dwayne Montgomery took Gonzalez’s shield and ID and either suspended or was about to suspend him when Sharpton intervened, and threatened to bolt from the training session unless Gonzalez was reinstated.

In a brief conversation with Chapman, Sharpton asked whether Gonzalez had been suspended. Chapman said he hadn’t been.

Montgomery then returned Gonzalez’s shield and ID, and Chapman ordered Gonzalez to leave the Apollo. Gonzalez did — and went to Sharpton’s office to speak to his attorney.

A postscript: There is talk now at Police Plaza that that Kelly is seeking to replace longtime First Deputy George Grasso and is considering a “minority” candidate.

Since the NYPD has had two black and one female First Deputies, rumors are flying that Kelly will replace Grasso with Chief of Personnel Rafael Pineiro, who will become the department’s first Hispanic First Deputy.

Such an appointment would be more symbolic than substantive.

John Pritchard, Kelly’s First Deputy during his first term as commissioner, had literally no responsibilities. Instead, Kelly dealt with the commanding officer of Pritchard’s office, Gene Devlin.

Grasso, too, has had his responsibilities diminished, by the appointment of Julie Schwartz, Deputy Commissioner of the Advocate’s office, who reports not to the First Deputy, as was standard practice, but directly to Kelly.

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