2004-05-28 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


What gets a cop fired? Drug use, stupidity, laziness and greed – those are the words of Charles V. Campisi, the chief of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, who spoke to the Citizen’s Police Academy class this week.

When it comes to drugs, the rule for police officers is pretty simple: get caught using them and you’re fired. More interesting than that, if a cop knows he/she has a problem and reaches out to a supervisor they will be referred to Health Services for testing – and will then be terminated. Thinking that was a little doomsday-ish I checked that with a local source, who reaffirmed.

Urine and hair are most commonly taken for testing (hair shows a longer history). If you have no hair they take samples from your fingernails. About 130-135 officers are called by their Social Security number, at random, per week. They have to go for the test within hours, and refusal is as good as failing. More than 15,000 officers were tested last year and 28 of them failed, Campisi, a 31-year veteran of the force, told us.

"We will help officers through all of their problems but one – drugs," he said. "No second chance…we will not rehabilitate."

That’s a strict standard that I have no problem with. Drug addicts are prone to behavior that is, at the very least, unbecoming of a law enforcement officer, and recreational-drug-using cops just seems hypocritical, right?

So what about stupidity, laziness and greed? Again, those are the chief’s words. Internal Affairs switched to a pro-active, if not sneaky, approach back in 1993, which means the "guardians of the department’s reputation" don’t sit around waiting for complaints anymore – they set up covert integrity tests.

Campisi would not share exact scenarios but it could go something like this: Officers get a 911 call to an apartment and they arrive to find men with drugs and drug money. They make the arrests. The test is whether or not they voucher the money and drugs, and/or whether they remove anything from the apartment illegally. What the officers don’t know is that the "drug dealers" work for Internal Affairs, which has also rented the apartment, which is monitored by hidden cameras. Maybe, in a different scenario, an undercover Internal Affairs officer offers a bribe or payment for better security or for the officer to look the other way.

"We want officers to think that any situation could be an integrity test," Campisi told us, "the only way they find out is if they fail."

There are three categories of failure, which are: administrative, failure to do the job expected; supervisory, supervisor fails to meet their job expectations; and criminal, the officer breaks the law.

Can you imagine if you’re a bad cop and you get caught? It must be like Candid Camera from hell. And they are catching them – there are 650 investigators handling about a dozen cases each, Campisi said.

What Campisi did not mention, and which I now regret not having asked him to speak about, is what effect this has on the average officer’s psyche. If you know a police officer personally, or if you’ve been following this column, you must know cops already have a lot to think about. They carry deadly weapons, they get shot at with and without warning, people love and loathe them for the job they do, they mediate disputes between irate people, they handle EDPs (you get a star if you remember that those are emotionally disturbed persons). Then, on top of this, they have this thing in the back of their mind that they might be under close scrutiny by Internal Affairs – the bureau that exists to find bad cops and fire them.

I think you will agree that there’s an interesting dynamic at work when the employee knows that they could be baited – with very serious, job, benefits and pension-stripping consequences. I think the little voice that the Internal Affairs Bureau puts in the ear of officers probably seems loudest to the honest and hardworking, which could up their stress level. On the other hand, complaints against the NYPD are on a steady decline and have been for years, Campisi said. It’s hard to argue with that.

About the Blue Wall of Silence: Campisi said colleagues in every profession protect their own, or will at least keep dirty details to themselves. Look at the papers and you’ll see he is often proved correct. The trend now is that officers feel safe coming forward.

One thing I was glad to hear is that cops are supposed to adhere to some of the same ethical standards as journalists. I thought I was the only one who isn’t allowed to accept gifts or special treatment in return for, let’s say, good coverage. Officers are not allowed to accept anything that would not be offered to the general public.

"When someone gives you something for free they expect something," Campisi told us. That’s something cops and reporters can’t get tied up in. By the way, officers can ride the rails and the buses for free – that’s not exactly a perk, especially since when it becomes known to the conductor/driver that a cop is on-board and something happens, you know who they call first.

One other thing about journalism while we’re on the subject – one of my fellow classmates, who sits somewhere behind me and doesn’t know what I do for a living said he thinks every reporter should have to take the course. Naturally, I sat there smugly, as if I had received some small pat on the head as Sergeant Ben Pape, who has been overseeing the Citizen’s Academy for years, pointed out that there is one such person attending. That’s me.

I don’t think I have talked about exactly why I’m taking the course. I was invited by 100 Precinct Community Affairs Officers Kenneth Beecher and Pete Rahaniotis a few months ago, and I knew that it would be a good learning experience. So, I eagerly accepted, and approached Howard Schwach about the idea for the column as a bit of a bargaining chip. I would only commit to doing this if there was an agreement that I could leave about an hour early on Mondays, even if there was something to cover, so I could arrive at least close to on-time. Howard, by his nature, was completely supportive.

I bet there are some in the journalism profession who would say that I’m becoming too close to a subject that is part of my routine. Maybe that debate only exists in my mind. What I can tell you is that, as a reporter, I feel I can never know too much about the subjects that I cover. Even the stuff I learned in the first class or two – the ranks within the department and how rank is indicated on the uniform – has been helpful time and time again.

What is ironic is that I remember asking Beecher if there was a guide to the police department’s organization.

"What are you working on a little Wave ex-po-se?" Beecher chided.

I told him that I just wanted to know the chain of command and what the different functions are, but he didn’t buy it. Then again, maybe he did. A few weeks later he invited me to attend the Citizen’s Academy, where I would learn about organization, policy, tactics from the same people who teach the police recruits. I’m happy to learn.

There is one class left and then graduation. Next week’s lesson is on "Verbal Judo" so I have been practicing saying "Judo Chop….Judo Chop!" People are laughing, and with any luck you are too.

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