Saturday, February 16, 2008

NYPD: Rounding Up Criminals or Hiring Them?

Yonkers brawlers and NYPD officers who looked the other way (Gothamist)
With the trial for Sean Bell's killers coming up later this month, one would think that Ray Kelly would try to keep his officers' behavior tip top. Alas, that is not the case.

Back on September 14, 2 off-duty NYPD officers and a friend were involved in an incident in Yonkers, right over the Bronx border, in which a man was punched and lost vision in his left eye. Two NYPD officers on patrol witnessed one of the off-duty officers, Michael McGhee, punch the victim, Peter Cummins. In a logical move, the two patrol officers put McGhee in cuffs.

So, as the process goes, McGhee should have been brought to the patrolling officers' precinct, where the officer would fill out the relevant paperwork, and then be sent to central booking and arraigned. But no. Allegedly McGhee tells the patrolling officers that he and his friend, Thomas Wimmer, are both NYPD cops, so the two patrolling officers, Stella Ibanez and Jeffrey Alicea let them go. When Yonkers PD showed up (considering that technically it was their jurisdiction) Officers Ibanez and Alicea failed to mention the fact that they had a suspect in custody or that they had let said suspect go.

As Yonkers PD, Westchester DA's office and NYPD Internal Affairs investigated, the story started coming to light. The three bar goers (off-duty officers McGhee, Wimmer, and a civilian friend Patrick Tully) have been charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor. The problem is that the law dictates that these men should be charged with second degree assault (with intent to cause serious physical injury, as opposed to intent to cause injury [I think vision loss would count as a serious injury]) and gang assault in the first degree (assaulting someone with intent to cause serious physical injury when aided by two or more people). These offenses are Class D and Class B felonies, respectively. But then again, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to charging civilians and charging law enforcement officers.

Rockin Robin Pub on McLean Ave
(Irish Emigrant)
 The two officers who tried to cover it up have both been charged with two counts of official misconduct each. The lawyers for the cops are spouting the usual rhetoric of "my client did nothing wrong, etc." but Officer Thomas Wimmer has already stepped up and taken responsibility for his actions by resigning from the force. His lawyer says that he merely found another opportunity that was better for him, but that seems quite coincidental.

Apparently the area where the incident occurred, McLean Avenue in Yonkers, is a hotbed of activity with which one does not really want to be involved. On January 4, 2006 two off-duty officers found themselves in the middle of an argument between two patrons in Rory Dolan's, one of the numerous Irish pubs on McLean Avenue, when one of the patrons stabbed one of the officers and was subsequently killed by the other officer (who was cleared in late April of any wrongdoing.) Even the judge in the recent case exclaimed that that area is not a great one to be in late at night.

NYPD Officer Patrick Venetek
This story comes out just a week after the story of a cop in Brooklyn who accidentally shot a toddler in the arm while cleaning his gun. Apparently Officer Patrick Venetek thought it was a good idea to clean the gun while it was loaded. Additionally, because he was delinquent on his electricity bill, the lighting was not great considering it was shut off. His brother tried to come up with an excuse, saying that they were so poor it was either the rent or the electricity that month, but offered no excuse as to why there were piles of trash and dirty clothes in their hallway outside their apartment or explanation for the large number of empty beer cans and cigarette packs lying around. (At $25 a 30 rack and $7 a pack of cigarettes, I think a reduction in the drinking and smoking could have led to a bill payment). Luckily, the NYPD took his gun away, so no more random discharges of the weapon should be occurring.

But the question is: how do people like this make it on the force? The main reason is the salary. It is so piss-poor that people left the force in 2006, despite Mayor Bloomberg and Ray Kelly's promise to add 800 more officers in 2006 (in actuality, the force shrunk by 307 officers). In 2005 the starting salary for an NYPD cop was $39,000; in 2006 it had been slashed more than than $10K to $25,100. Compare that to Nassau County cops ($34,000) and Suffolk County ($57,811).

The NYPD recruitment website says that it will not hire felons, but that leaves misdemeanors (which, for perspective, is what the three people accused of blinding the man in the eye on McLean Ave. in Yonkers are charged with) open for new hires (except petit larceny and domestic violence.) With the department so desperate for recruits, it should come as no surprise that people who would blind a guy in his eye and then try to cover it up, or someone who feels booze and cigarettes are more important than the electricity bill would make it onto the force. This is a dangerous road to go down, as those cops who are dirty or sleazy but are not overt about it move up the ranks.

NYPD Recruitment Van (tom_hoboken Flickr)
If the city wants to stop this problem, bump up the requirements to be a cop. If you paid a cop $50,000 a year, required a college education (instead of just 60 credits or military service and a GED) and a GPA of something over 2.0 (the current requirement, which is a C), plus a psychological evaluation, stories like this would be less and less common. Hell, if the starting salary were $50,000 I would be a cop. Instead, cops have to deal with so much BS and are paid so little, it's no wonder some of them are jerks (this, of course, does not excuse their behavior.)

College grads go after jobs on Wall Street and in law firms and medical professions. If the base pay and requirements for being a cop were on the same scale as some of the lower-tier financial and law firms and competitiveness for these jobs were high, police departments would be much different (in a good way.) There are cops out there who would be able to be a cop with these heightened requirements; the point of the requirements would be to weed out those who really should not have that much power (or weaponry, for that matter) in society and attract new people who would live up to high standards.

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