Len Levitt is the author of “NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force."
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was not notified of Mayor Bill de Blasio's midnight call to a deputy chief, inquiring about the arrest of a prominent black minister and supporter, until 6:30 a.m. the next day.
That means nearly seven hours passed from the time de Blasio called Kim Royster, the commanding officer of the police public information office, to ask about the arrest of Bishop Orlando Findlayter before anyone told Bratton. A de Blasio ally, Findlayter was arrested on two warrants stemming from a civil disobedience case.
Royster has a terrific singing voice. In Bratton's first term as commissioner, she was called on regularly to belt out the national anthem at police ceremonies. One of the NYPD's few female black chiefs, she is also married to the department's liaison to Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
The department line is that after de Blasio's call, Royster called the 67th Precinct in Brooklyn, where Findlayter was held. She reported back that precinct Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr had already released Findlayter.
Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Steve Davis said she then alerted him, and that he did not awaken Bratton because the matter was resolved. People with outstanding warrants are normally jailed until a judge hears their cases, but Davis said Lehr acted within his authority.
Former Chief of Department Joe Esposito said Lehr used common sense. "This happens more often than people realize," Esposito said.
De Blasio's claim that he acted appropriately is not plausible. Savvy politicians know that a mayor has no business intervening before or after an arrest. Rudy Giuliani, who also considered himself de facto police commissioner when he was mayor, actually got it right. He said he would've called the commissioner directly.
De Blasio's call to Royster also placed her and Lehr in tough spots, said a former deputy commissioner. "He placed an African-American woman with a promising career in a situation that could have ruined her," the deputy commissioner said. What would she have done if Lehr continued to hold Findlayter?
De Blasio's call also depicted Bratton as out of the loop. As another former top NYPD official put it: "What does this say about his relationship to Bratton right out of the box?"
What makes the situation more difficult for de Blasio is his own rhetoric.
David Dinkins may have been the city's first black mayor, but de Blasio is the first mayor to openly promote the concerns of black New Yorkers. Intertwined with this is a police agenda that goes beyond stop-and-frisk.
Consider his plan to settle a lawsuit over the racially divisive 1989 rape of a white female, the Central Park jogger. Five minority (four black and one Hispanic) teens are seeking $250 million for years in jail for a crime they didn't commit. While none admitted raping the jogger, they implicated each other not just in the jogger's rape and beating but also as part of a larger group that assaulted others that night.
Or consider de Blasio's embrace of Al Sharpton, who has yet to apologize for his lies in the Tawana Brawley case or his anti-Semitic outbursts during the Crown Heights riots. He said that he agreed with Giuliani that de Blasio's call was "no big deal." If Giuliani had intervened in an arrest, a la de Blasio, Sharpton would've been baying at the moon and the cameras.
So when instead of calling his police commissioner about the arrest of a black supporter, de Blasio calls a connected black chief, people may be forgiven for drawing troubling conclusions.