CASE file: His night began in the bars of Staten Island, and by 2 a.m., he was buying crack cocaine. Inside his car, he flicked a lighter and inhaled. He picked up a woman; they got high together. She left after he spotted the authorities.
By AL BAKER
Case file: A Brooklyn man had a hook with organized crime. He and his wife set up gambling operations at six spots in Manhattan and Nassau County. When they were arrested, along with her parents and 11 others, investigators seized cash, slot machines and cars.
Case file: He would lock his mountain bike in a garage in Jamaica, Queens, then enter a nearby bordello. Once, he even arranged a rendezvous in a pizzeria. Tipped off by a prostitute — probably angered that he did not pay — detectives caught it all on audio and video.
These are all relatively minor crimes, the stuff of daily precinct logs rather than ripped-from-the-headlines television drama, but for one thing: In each case, the central character was a cop.
That, by at least one way of reckoning, makes them routine: From 1992 to 2008, nearly 2,000 New York Police Department officers were arrested, according to the department’s own annual reports of the Internal Affairs Bureau, an average of 119 a year.
The rarely seen internal reports were obtained last month by the New York Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Law. They show that the number of tips logged each year by Internal Affairs has tripled since 1992, a trend that top police officials attribute to an opening up of the process and more diligent cataloging of public response to police interactions — including compliments as well as complaints. The number of investigations pursued over the same period has dropped by more than half, which Chief Charles V. Campisi, who runs the unit, called “the truest reflection of the corruption the department faces.”
Most of those investigations involved drugs, theft or crimes like fraud, bribery or sex offenses, on and off the job. Inquiries in these categories have largely decreased in recent years, but cases involving abuse of suspects have risen significantly. The 2006 report noted the “unprecedented” rise and gave an example: several officers followed a woman wanted for petty larceny into a store and one “struck her in the head with his firearm for no reason.”
“History tells us there always will be bad cops, and the department will never be able to completely control that,” said Christopher T. Dunn, associate legal director of the civil liberties union, who has spent weeks studying the documents. “But what it can control, and what it should be held accountable for, is how it responds to corruption.”
For better or worse, the police are left to police themselves, and the reports, which together total more than 600 pages, provide the most comprehensive record available chronicling that imperfect science. They tell a colorful story not only of officers who betray the badge but also of the little-known agency charged with rooting them out.
The bureau has long been a Hollywood fascination, and derided among the rank and file as the “rat squad” since so many cases depend on one cop snitching on another. Officers who work there are, therefore, called “cheese eaters,” while rogue officers have been known as “grass eaters” (those who peddle in low-level but pervasive wrongdoing) and “meat eaters” (who are more aggressive or violent).
It took its current form in 1993, after Officer Michael Dowd and several colleagues were arrested on Long Island on charges of selling cocaine, prompting a disgusted Raymond W. Kelly, in his first stint as police commissioner, to overhaul the internal affairs process.
“I am always concerned about corruption,” Mr. Kelly, who returned as commissioner in 2002, said in an interview. “For me, myself, personally, it is absolutely critical to the good order, to the function of this department, that we have a well-staffed, a well-trained, a proactive Internal Affairs Bureau, and that’s what we have.”
The reports themselves have changed much over the years: from 81 typewritten pages packed with statistics in 1993, to 99 pages of glossy photographs but scant specifics in 2006, to a pair of skimpy 15-page summaries in 2007 and 2008. Year in, year out, they contain head-scratching examples of people sworn to uphold the law breaking it instead.
Officers rob banks. They collude with drug dealers. They pilfer credit cards from prisoners to buy groceries, and they take payoffs from street peddlers as protection money. Sex is often at the center of their sins.
That man on the mountain bike was Damian A. Conlon, who was a 34-year-old officer on the bicycle patrol in the 103rd Precinct in Queens in 1999. Internal Affairs investigators watched him ride from the station house to the brothel, during his shift, wearing his uniform. They watched him walk inside, heard a manager instruct a prostitute to have sex with him and heard her say not to charge him. Mr. Conlon pleaded guilty to official misconduct, paid a $1,000 fine and quit.
FOR as long as there have been police officers, there have been cycles of corruption: renegades, scandals, reforms — more renegades.
In 1894, the Lexow Commission’s inquiry into brothel owners and gambling den runners paying off officers led to Theodore Roosevelt’s being named president of a Board of Police Commissioners. Next was the Becker Scandal of 1912: Lt. Charles Becker hired four gunmen to rub out a gambler who was tipping prosecutors to police payoffs.
The Seabury Investigation of 1930 exposed vice officers shaking down prostitutes, and police officers and politicians in the grip of organized crime. In 1950, a scandal involving a Brooklyn bookmaker named Harry Gross, who had enlisted officers as muscle for his $20-million-a-year operation, led to the resignation of Mayor William O’Dwyer and his police commissioner.
The early 1970s brought the Knapp Commission and its tales of pervasive corruption. Two decades later came Officer Dowd — and the birth of the current Internal Affairs Bureau, when Commissioner Kelly declared the operation a mess and chose Walter Mack, a former federal prosecutor, to clean it up.
Internal Affairs was given equal footing with the detective, patrol and personnel bureaus, headed by a three-star chief; assignments there were no longer all voluntary. The idea, Mr. Mack said in a recent interview, was “to elevate it, with new personnel, a different management structure, to change what had been perceived, and what was criticized, as an organization not functioning the way it should be.”
And to start issuing annual reports. They were sent to the commissioner and his top brass, though more recently they have also gone to the Commission to Combat Police Corruption.
As historical documents, the reports do not form a coherent narrative, with many statistics and categories disappearing from year to year without explanation. (The reports turned over to the Civil Liberties Union were also missing 47 pages, which the department said was to protect current or future investigations.) The changes reflect the priorities of each of four police commissioners, the broader crime scene, the improving technology.
The 1993 report is old-school — right down to the font of the typewriters — and quotes a study that found the bureau’s predecessor agency “had become ineffective due to a bifurcated system of accountability and control.” The 1994 report reflects the arrival of Commissioner William J. Bratton, trumpeting the need to track and analyze “integrity” issues, and promising to open the “investigatory process” to precinct commanders and others.
“In the past, internal affairs operations were shrouded in secrecy, closed off from the rest of the department,” it says. “Much has been done over the last year to change this isolation ideology.”
In 1995, the phenomenon of “testilying” — when officers lie in court — is introduced. The following year’s report adds perjury as a corruption category and has a page titled, “Truth in Testimony,” including a policy from the new commissioner, Howard Safir, that calls for firing any officer who lies, absent exceptional circumstances.
The report in 2000, under Bernard B. Kerik, echoes the idea that the CompStat system of mapping crime to fight it can also be used to track “internal crime.” But later reports have less, not more, data; in 2003, for instance, the number of drug tests conducted is not included, and you cannot tell how many of those who failed were uniformed officers.
“These reports depict a department that, in the mid-1990s, was candid about its anticorruption work,” said Mr. Dunn, of the civil liberties union. “The recent reports, by contrast, reveal almost nothing, signaling an N.Y.P.D. that seems unwilling to confront corruption.”
Commissioner Kelly said the reports had gotten thinner partly because of his longevity in the department and familiarity with Internal Affairs. He meets daily with Chief Campisi, the bureau’s leader, and is regularly briefed on the disposition of its cases, arrests of officers, and the results of integrity testing — undercover setups to see whether officers will do wrong.
“Nobody has been more involved in the day-to-day workings of internal investigations than I have,” Mr. Kelly said. “It takes a lot of time to produce a document like that, and it is an internal document — to be driven by a need that we see in the organization for it, rather than just putting together lots of numbers.”
The Internal Affairs budget has increased, to $61.8 million this year from $43 million in 2000; Chief Campisi said there are currently 650 uniformed officers, up from 604 in 2000.
Among many other things, Internal Affairs has a vehicle enforcement unit that, last year, issued 1,664 summonses to police vehicles whose drivers were misusing their special parking placards by, for example, blocking a loading zone or fire hydrant. The unit is run by two lieutenants and works with two tow trucks, and its work has angered some in the ranks and mystified others.
“They seem like they kind of lost their way a bit,” said one former Internal Affairs commander, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of offending colleagues.
In 1994, Internal Affairs logged more than 14,700 tips and investigated 2,258, or about 15 percent. In 2006, the department received nearly 45,000 tips and investigated 1,057, about 2 percent. Police officials attributed the growth in tips to the 311 system the city started in 2003, the advent of e-mail and a broader willingness among civilians to report problems in general.
They noted that tips — which the reports sometimes call “logs,” “complaints” or “allegations” — are not always secret and might include benign items like notices from the Department of Motor Vehicles of insurance lapses, expired tickets or other infractions by people with names similar to officers’; calls from emotionally disturbed people like one who routinely reports a phantom police helicopter flying overhead; items relating to police officers outside the city; reporter questions; and even praise for officers.
Chief Campisi said that the 2006 report, which he signed, was wrong to link tips and investigations — “It should have been two charts” — and that earlier reports, particularly those in 1996 and 1998, were poorly written.
Corruption cases are divided into more than a dozen categories in the reports, from violation of departmental regulations to serious felonies. In each of the last 16 years, two-thirds to three-quarters of the offenses involved narcotics, theft and what the department refers to as “other crimes” — like fraud, assault, drunken driving and domestic violence.
Narcotics offenses dropped sharply, to 213 cases in 2008, from 653 in 1993. At the same time, cases involving stolen property grew, to 394 in 2008 from 367 in 1993. Meanwhile, “abuse of department regulations,” as the reports call it — drinking or sleeping on duty, say — more than doubled, to 154 in 2008 from 64 in 1993. And the number of instances in which officers were accused of injuring or assaulting suspects or making false arrests soared to more than 180 in each of 2006 and 2007, from 10 in 1993.
The number of officers arrested reached a high of 167 in 1995 — as the department itself swelled with the absorption of the Housing and Transit Bureaus — and then fell fairly steadily to 86 in 2004. Since then, despite the shrinking of the ranks and the decline in crime, arrests crept up, to 124 in 2008.
The reports also chronicle the Police Department’s routine drug tests; through the years, officers were most often caught having used cocaine. The testing peaked in 1996, with 16,194 random tests, and 61 officers failing. In 2008, 10 officers failed drug tests, but it is difficult to gauge the significance of the number since the report does not say how many tests were administered.
Similarly, the reports’ accounts of integrity tests are inconsistent. Only 3 of the 16 annual reports include the number of both tests and failures; the most recent, in 2002, showed 486 tests and 54 failures, including 15 for criminal misconduct, 36 for procedural problems and 3 for supervisory issues.
Chief Campisi said the omissions were by design. “I don’t like anyone to know the number of tests we do,” he explained. “Part of our integrity-test program is that by keeping it secret we’re trying to create the impression that every encounter an officer has might be an Internal Affairs Bureau test.”
WHILE it has been years since the last major scandal, there is no shortage of individual misconduct cases: two officers charged in separate incidents last fall with killing pedestrians while driving drunk; another indicted in December for helping a friend run a cocaine distribution operation; two more arrested Feb. 9 for using their badges and guns in a perfume heist at a New Jersey warehouse.
And then there is the case of Sgt. William J. Lewis, who was fired March 9 after a 25-year career in the Police Department, the last few years of which he felt hunted by Internal Affairs. Since 2006, he has faced six separate sets of Internal Affairs charges for running afoul of department regulations; in November, he was arrested by federal agents, accused of withdrawing cash in 25 chunks under $10,000 over 25 days to avoid notice by the Internal Revenue Service.
The Internal Affairs cases against Mr. Lewis mostly concerned seemingly small stuff: failing to report a change of address, owning a rental property in his precinct, engaging in off-duty employment without authorization. But in 2008, the department accused him of tipping off the operator of Beer Goggles, a Staten Island bar, to an undercover investigation.
The case led to a Police Department trial, in which a prime piece of evidence was a computer-generated database of Mr. Lewis’s phone records. Only it turned out the records were inaccurate. Martin G. Karopkin, the department’s deputy commissioner of trials, declared in a written decision that the case was “based on hearsay, conclusions unsupported by evidence and assumptions that do not make sense.” Mr. Lewis was acquitted.
He went on trial in federal court in Brooklyn on March 15, six days after losing his job. Internal Affairs investigators were in the courtroom, observing — something Mr. Lewis’s lawyers question, since he no longer was on the force, but Chief Campisi defended as routine to record the culmination of Internal Affairs cases. He was acquitted March 18.
Now his lawyers are claiming wrongful termination in hopes of regaining his pension, and are threatening a federal civil rights lawsuit over his treatment by the Internal Affairs Bureau.
“In their quest to get an individual, they lose sight of the purposes of their job,” said Eric Franz, one of the lawyers. “In this case, they did incomplete investigations, put forth shoddy evidence and turned a blind eye to exculpatory information.”
Mr. Lewis did admit several departmental violations, and was found guilty of others: Failing to properly read and sign the memo books of the police officers under his supervision. Not informing the department that his sister worked in a bar in his jurisdiction. Referring an extermination job in the precinct to a contractor who had worked for him, a conflict of interest.
Police officials shrugged off criticism over the handling of his case, confident they had rid the department of a problem officer.