One Police Plaza

The NYPD’s Politics of Homicide

Even Paul Browne, the police department’s skillful Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, is struggling to put a positive spin on the 9 per cent, six-month homicide rise.

Brown, who’s as good as it gets when it comes to manipulating information, pointed out that despite the homicide rise, major crimes are down five per cent.

Nobody was buying.

Browne also pointed out that the homicide rise -- from 210 murders during the first six months of last year to 239 murders during the first six months of this year – follows 2005’s 40-year low, and that even with this year’s increase, the first half of 2006 marks the second lowest homicide number in 40 years.

Nobody was buying that either.

Not that Browne wasn’t telling the truth. Rather in the past decade, following the chaos of the David Dinkins years, Rudy Giuliani turned the city’s crime rate into a political issue.

“The truth is that until Giuliani, the city’s political climate didn’t allow it,” says a former deputy police commissioner. “There was a tipping point – perhaps the Crown Heights riots -- that occurred sometime during the Dinkins years that permitted the department to deal with crime as it hadn’t before.”

Browne’s boss, Ray Kelly, who was Dinkins’ police commissioner when Giuliani was elected mayor, did not initially appreciate the changing landscape.

At a secret meeting with Giuliani in early 1994 in a last-ditch effort to save his job, he touted “community policing,” the now discredited Dinkins’ model, says a person familiar with the meeting. Giuliani was apparently not impressed. The appointment of William Bratton as his first police commissioner followed.

The department then stopped citing robbery as the crime that best epitomized the state of the city. Instead, it turned to homicide, a crime that cannot be covered up or dumbed down to one of a lesser category.

As the late philosopher Jack Maple, architect of the department’s COMPSTAT, the computerized statistical crime analysis, program, used to say, “There are no police cemeteries where they hide the bodies. You either have been murdered or you haven’t been.”

The public may have forgotten that no one was more surprised than Giuliani that homicides continued to fall each year. Back in 1995, after citywide crime, including homicides, had been cut nearly in half under Bratton, Giuliani talked about “locking in” the gains.

Instead as homicides continued in free fall throughout the decade, no one has crowed more loudly than successive police commissioners and their spokesmen. That includes Kelly and Browne.

“Each year there is a new benchmark,” says a former top police official. “This is the challenge the city has created for the department.

“The public has come to expect a reduction in homicides. When homicides are up this year, they don't give a damn that last year was lowest ever. And the department is being disingenuous if now they’re going to say the level of homicides doesn’t count.”

So far, the six-month rise in homicides is merely a public relations problem. A more worrisome statistic, says the former official, is the number of shootings.

“I would look beyond the homicide number,” he says. That [shooting] number is a more significant number to me as a chief. If homicides are up five per cent but my shootings are down 20 per cent, I’d say we are doing really well.

“The question is: are shootings up? Think of it this way: a guy who was shot and not killed is a homicide that went bad.”

You can't make this up [Con’t] You’re Angela Clemente, the mob-tracking forensic analyst who Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes and his ace prosecutor Mike L. Vecchione say was key to their indictment of former FBI agent-turned-possible-mafia-mole Lindley DeVecchio.

Ten days ago, you rendezvous in a Bensonhurst parking lot in the middle of the night with an informant in what Vecchione calls a “not unrelated” mob case. At 2:18 A.M. before you leave, you telephone Angela Mosconi, a freelance reporter for the Daily News who lives in Miami and who you’ve talked to by phone over the past two months but never met to ask if you should go. She tells you not to.

You go anyway. You are supposedly beaten, choked, and kicked by an unknown person, found unconscious by the Belt parkway and taken to Lutheran Hospital. You leave against doctors’ orders, then fail to show up for a police sketch of the suspect.

Meanwhile, Mosconi flies in from Miami, meets you at the 62nd precinct. She notices marks on your neck and on your stomach, what she says is a “port-wine stain.”

You then announce you’re dropping out of the case.

Farewell to The Duke. Funeral services will be held today for Kenneth Donohue, a larger than life three star chief, who was found dead last week after a long battle with cancer.

Donohue, a former head of the Transit Police, became the first chief of the NYPD’s Transit Bureau after the two agencies merged in 1995. He was a colleague of Bratton and Maple but thrived under Bratton’s successor Howard Safir, becoming a favorite of Chief of Department Louis Anemone. In Anemone’s absence he served as Acting Chief of the department, jumping over more senior chiefs.

A 32-year police veteran, Donahue retired in 1998 after Safir alleged that subway crime had been underreported for decades. At the time Donahue was undergoing surgery for colon cancer.

His nickname was “The Duke,” which Donohue maintained was in recognition of his resemblance to John Wayne. Others said the name stemmed from the fact that he was unable to pass a mirror without looking at himself.