By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
The NYPD is carrying out a mission overseas to protect the city, and funding it with millions it gets from a charity.
The mission centers on the NYPD's "pilot" program of posting detectives in foreign cities with the stated goal of gathering counter-terror intelligence in real time so the police force can better protect New York City's landmarks, skyscrapers, subways and airports.
Sounds like a noble and unassailable concept. The war on terrorism is this country’s No. 1 security concern. The cops are "doing God's work."
So, the NYPD shouldn't have to rely on the Police Foundation charity to go around with a tin cup to finance the program.
This back-channel financing leaves the department wide open to critics, including top ex-FBI officials who worked overseas, who say the project lacks outside scrutiny. The complaints are beginning to reach the ears of public officials. You don’t have to be a policy wonk to understand why.
The NYPD already has more than 100 detectives on the FBI-Joint Terrorist Task Force with access to all the cutting-edge terror data available to the intelligence community. But apparently that's not enough.
"The police brass always complained we were holding back information," a top FBI official complained to me. "It bothered the s--- out of me. We shared everything and never held back. Sometimes, they thought we were. But sometimes, we just did not know!"
Skeptical of the feds, Commissioner Raymond Kelly and his Intelligence boss, former CIA official David Cohen, wanted their own information channels. In 2002, the NYPD’s International Liaison Program was born — a "pilot" project with a lone detective posted in Toronto.
That detective was instructed to interact with law enforcement counterparts on threats to New York in a post 9/11 world. Since then, the NYPD has expanded its reach overseas, stationing detectives in a dozen foreign cities including Paris, London, and Madrid. The detectives fill an information void for Kelly when the proverbial stuff hits the fan.
Inquiring minds from reporters to watchdog groups say they are frustrated in getting granular information (to borrow an expression used in the intelligence world) regarding what the Police Foundation pays for.
So here's a list.
The Police Foundation pays for the apartment rentals, office equipment, computers, printers, fax machines, electricity and heat.
It also pays for the detectives' travel expenses, including four round-trip tickets home and back each year (part of this was donated for a while by American Airlines) to be briefed at One Police Plaza and to see their families.
Total cost per cop: more than $100,000 a year.
Total annual outlay by the charity: $1.2 million. The foundation hopes to raise $1.5 million this year, according their latest annual report. The NYPD itself pays only the officers' salaries, which it does regardless of where they are assigned.
Since the "pilot" program is an internal NYPD project, the NYPD is the only entity that holds sway over its necessity and effectiveness. And there are concerns of oversight. But the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Intel bosses keep a tight rein on these detectives and fears of scandal are way overblown. The NYPD would be fortunate to keep this type of control over its remaining cops here in New York.
Then there are reports the NYPD detectives caused confusion at terror events overseas. That is hardly plausible. How could a couple of NYPD detectives create more chaos at the scene of London bombings or in Mumbai hotels where terrorists sprayed automatic weapons slaughtering scores of innocent people.
Eight years ago, few people batted an eye about the program. Most were even less concerned because it did not involve taxpayer money.
Since the program has merit, it's time the NYPD turn a pilot program into public policy, with all that entails, and find a new way to help pay for this. Considering the enormous NYPD budget, $1.5 million is a drop in a bucket. After all, the cops are theirs.
In my first column, dealing with possible fudging of crime stats, I wrote that the murder rate was up 15 percent. Murder is the least pliable crime stat. Since then, the media has started reporting on the city’s death toll.
But, the more important crime category to watch is robbery. I believe robbery has always been the true bellwether crime stat. Murders generally occur between people who know one another. Robberies do not.
Therefore, an increase in robberies would be a more troubling sign of where crime is heading. They are also more difficult to prevent.
Right now, robberies are up 4.7 percent in Manhattan North, but down 9.5 percent in Manhattan South of 59th Street, which is obviously the heart of the Big Apple, and extremely important to the city’s overall safety perception.
For the record, robberies are up 5.3 percent citywide, from 15,973 last year to 16,814 so far this year. We will see if the shrinking NYPD can hold this line.