the secretive police-department-within-a-department
Earlier this year, the Voice uncovered a troubling pattern of how the NYPD operates, relying on secretly recorded tapes to show that street cops are under intense pressure to achieve seemingly contradictory goals set down by their superiors. Years of recordings, lawsuits, and testimonies by active and retired police officers reveal that Ray Kelly's police department has been on an intense program that punishes innocent bystanders while intimidating and harassing actual crime victims.
The NYPD Tapes Part 1
Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct
The NYPD Tapes, Part 2
Bed-Stuy street cops ordered: Turn this place into a ghost town
The NYPD Tapes, Part 3
A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults
The NYPD Tapes, Part 4
The WhistleBlower, Adrian Schoolcraft
NYPD Tapes 5: The Corroboration
A Bronx police officer secretly tapes his precinct
Follow continuing coverage of the NYPD Tapes here at our Runnin' Scared blog.
We've heard relatively little, however, about the NYPD wing that is supposed to be watching for these kinds of injustices: the Internal Affairs Bureau. Until now.
More officers have come forward, telling the Voice that the secretive police-department-within-a-department is as troubled as the rest of Kelly's operation. To illustrate this, we will look at three unrelated Internal Affairs cases: One involves a Queens woman who says she was stalked, harassed, and impregnated by an NYPD sergeant; the other, a veteran detective stuck in a dead-end job requiring him to watch surveillance video all day; and the third, a gay cop in the Internal Affairs Bureau itself who faced constant harassment over his sexual identity. (The NYPD did not respond to detailed questions about these cases.)
Taken together, the three cases highlight several themes about the current Internal Affairs Bureau.
For one, all IAB complaints are supposed to be confidential. That rule is necessary because police officers who complain about their colleagues can and do face retaliation. But the reality seems to be that an officer's home command will find out fairly quickly that an Internal Affairs complaint has been made. Several officers have complained to the Voice that shortly after they filed complaints with Internal Affairs, their home commands knew about it and then pursued various types of retaliation against them.
Second, whether big or small, IAB cases seem to plod through the system at the same snail's pace. There doesn't seem to be any mechanism to deal quickly with a minor case—an office dispute, for example. Thus, cases drag on, and aggrieved, frustrated cops turn to the courts to resolve their issues. That, in turn, costs the city more money in legal bills and settlements.
Third, it's impossible—even for the people who file the complaints—to find out what was done and what happened with a complaint. Internal Affairs investigators often don't return complainants' phone calls.
Fourth, it seems that often, very little happens with a complaint—and it takes a long time not to happen.
Finally, the system is fairly capricious, and its decisions are often puzzling. In two cases with similar circumstances, one detective might be allowed to retire without charges, while another might be charged and face termination. And because of the insular nature of today's NYPD, it's not likely you'll find out why. Police officers who fall out of favor are just as likely to receive an unfavorable assignment as face a charge—a point made by a former departmental trial commissioner now in private practice.
The gay detective assigned to Internal Affairs tells the Voice that there were times when IAB bosses did not take complaints seriously, gave them short shrift, wrote out reports to make the complaints seem less serious than they were, and allowed cases to linger on unresolved. He recalls one Internal Affairs detective who often spent time at work using the Internet to shop for clothes and plan vacations, and another co-worker who routinely looked at pornographic photographs at work.
"The classic line of 'It's under investigation' just means it's gathering dust on someone's desk, particularly in my case," says the officer, who asked the Voice not to use his name. "There is no confidentiality. I had no sense that the complaints were taken seriously or treated confidentially."
One of the IAB's primary responsibilities is to protect the public against cops who abuse their positions. Consider, then, the case of Jessica Varney, a 23-year-old African-American woman from Queens who fell prey to a sergeant in a Ridgewood, Queens, precinct, who used his badge to pressure her to date him, then stalked her and ultimately threatened her with violence, according to a notice of claim filed by her attorney, Joel Berger.
Varney was impregnated twice by the sergeant. She had an abortion the first time, but carried the second child to full term.
She tells the Voice that she met Sergeant Robert Ellington in October 2008, a period when she was fighting with her landlord at 1874 Harmon Street in Ridgewood over lead paint in the apartment and other matters.
Ellington was initially helpful about the dispute, she says, and then solicitous, calling her every day, and eventually persuading her to go out with him. "He asked me if I liked Italian guys. He said he wanted to get to know me more," she says. "He got very personal, talking about divorcing his wife. I was shocked. I didn't know this guy."
Ellington eventually persuaded Varney to go out with him, but she expected something simple, in the neighborhood. Instead, he took her to Atlantic City.
Varney says she was very uncomfortable about the whole thing, but she went along with it. Next, he brought her to his house on Long Island. "That's when things got weird," she says. "He has this camera, and he says, I like you, find you attractive. My wife doesn't satisfy me."