2004-03-19 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


The second class of the Citizen’s Police Academy kicked off with the "Hero Tape" a string of propaganda videos produced by the New York Police Academy Video Production Unit. These videos are always a little bit cheesy, no matter who or what the subject is, but I liked them. They showed familiar views of the city – the Chrysler Building at night, the Brooklyn Bridge, the rivers – mixed with police officers graduating from the academy, out on patrol and making heroic rescues.

The footage of the police in action was really the best part of these videos. There is no way you can watch these men and women in action and not have respect for the work that they do. Rescue work is interesting stuff to me and to the readers of the paper. I have covered accidents, fires and have crawled through thick wooded areas teeming with mosquitoes to get pictures for The Wave of police and firemen in action. But when I’m at a house fire, trying to get a good shot, there are others who are trying to save lives or property. The last thing I want to do is get in their way. In a way I guess I’m a little jealous of police videographers, because they can move unrestricted when they’re working and feel like they are on the same team as the guys doing the essential work.

The focus of class two was on the colorful history of the New York City Police Department, including a number of interesting corruption scandals such as the one uncovered by Police Officer Frank Serpico, Sergeant David Durk, The New York Times and the Knapp Commission. So, I decided to rent Serpico Tuesday night. I was a little disappointed, and I wish I could talk to my late grandfather about what the force was like back in those days. Something tells me that I’ll be heading to the library for some research using the Times’ index.

The first part of our reading assignment included the good, the bad and the ugly of the NYPD’s history – and I appreciated the department’s candid review of its past. Here’s what I found to be particularly interesting:

95 The NYPD was established in 1845 and was modeled after the London Metropolitan Police Depart ment. Orig in ally, officers did not wear uniforms because they did not want to be recognized, and they did not carry handguns.

95 The department was created, in part, as a more humane way to put down disorders and riots. Until the NYPD was created the military would be called in, guns blazing, to restore order.

95 Precincts also served as the city’s homeless shelters and distribution centers where the poor went to get food and coal until the end of the Nine teenth Century.

95 One of the department’s most crook ed cops, Captain Alexander "Clubber" Williams, lived in a Gramercy Park mansion and sailed his yacht from the 23 Street Boat Basin to his waterfront Connecticut estate on weekends.

95Crooked politicians and racketeers controlled the NYPD until the end of the Nineteenth Century, when the Lexow Committee was formed to hold public hearings to unveil corruption. The committee’s key witness, Max Schmittberger, testified that he paid $200 to become an officer and $12,000 for his promotion to captain. The civil service system was created around this time to remove politics from the hiring process.

95 The NYPD hired its first black officer in 1914.

95 The end of prohibition and the onset of the Great Depression reduced the flow of bribe money to police. That, coup led with the election of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, led to a major period of reform.

95 The department’s hiring practices were changed in 1973 so that women could be hired on the same basis as men, and the titles "patrolman" and "policewoman" became "police officer."

95 About 3,000 officers were laid off
in 1975 and the city hired no new officers from November of 1974 to Nov ember of 1979 due to severe budget problems.

95 A realignment of the precinct boundaries came about in the 1980s resulting in the 76 precincts that exist today.

95 The 1990s saw the birth of the CompStat system of monitoring crime complaints and holding commanding officers responsible for addressing them. Lanza told the class that Comp Stat figures – keeping crime down – is a major component for promotion to the uppermost ranks of the department.

The class and I learned that captain is the highest civil service rank in the NYPD. The numerous "discretionary" ranks above captain – inspectors, chiefs, deputy commissioners and commissioner – require excellent work performance records and good connections, one instructor told us. The de part ment has about 14,000 civilian em ployees including the commissioner and 14 deputy commissioners.

The reading for week two included a six-page section on the chain of command, complete with job descriptions and illustrations of each rank’s badge or uniform rank designations (bars, etc.). I knew Lanza’s rank as soon as he entered the room, because of the three blue, inverted v-shaped chevrons on his shirt.

My only criticism of the academy so far is that class two, the first true lecture class of the program, was largely just a rehash of the reading. So, if you were prepared for class, and not taking lots of notes for a newspaper column, it could have been a bit stale.

Next week the class promises to be more interesting. Officers from the Bureau of Counter Terrorism are going to tell us about the historical elements of terrorism and the department’s initiatives aimed at keeping the city safe.

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