By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 20, 2008
An online columnist who is widely read within the police department and frequently critical of its top officials discovered a year ago that the department would not renew his press pass. Now with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the columnist, Leonard Levitt, is suing the city over its refusal to provide him with documents that lay out its policies for issuing the passes.
"This is strictly retaliatory," Mr. Levitt said in a video posted on the NYCLU's Web site. "There's no question about it."
Mr. Levitt's Web site, nypdconfidential.com, bills itself as "an insider's view of the department that the public rarely sees."
Mr. Levitt's column has reported that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's security detail routinely drove his wife on personal errands, a claim the police department denies. Many of Mr. Levitt's columns focus on the police department's anti-terrorism unit. Others report on high-profile prosecutions around the city.
In an affidavit filed in court, Mr. Levitt claims that in 2003 Mr. Kelly visited editors at Newsday in Long Island to "complain about the critical coverage of the NYPD in my column." Mr. Levitt left Newsday in 2005 after a decade there. The department extended his press pass through 2006, but did not renew the pass for 2007 or this year.
All city-issued press passes in New York City, regardless of a reporter's area of coverage, are issued by the police department.
Mr. Levitt is not the only independent journalist covering City Hall who has been denied a press pass. An online reporter, Rafael Martinez Alequin, was unable to get his pass renewed after 2006. Mayor Bloomberg barred him from press conferences last year, although that ban was lifted.