By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is changing the boss of detectives in Manhattan — ending the five-and-a-half-year run of a popular veteran commander who has overseen many of the city's high-profile murder cases, DNAinfo has learned.
Deputy Chief Larry Nikunen, who currently works in Police Headquarters as second in command for Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski, will take over command of investigations in Manhattan this week.
He replaces Assistant Chief Al Materasso, who turned 61 on Monday, and got the word Christmas Eve that he will fill Nikunen's spot as Pulaski's No. 2.
The swap was kept below the radar because it came amid Kelly's transfer of 13 supervisors, who mostly were executive officers.
Kelly is known for shifting commanders to bring fresh eyes to various posts with the hope that the new supervisors may find novel ways to tweak or improve crime fighing within the commands.
On paper, the transfers of Materasso and Nikunen appear to be promotions, but no shift of this magnitude is ever completely equal.
Materasso will have his hand in investigative cases across the entire city. The NYPD is making full use of his decades of experience during what has to be his final two years of service as he approaches the mandatory retirement age.
But Nikunen, 51, is getting his own detective command and direct supervisory responsibility for all investigations in what many observers consider the most prestigious piece of police real estate in the world — Manhattan.
The move signals that Kelly and Pulaski not only want a new up-and-coming commander in an important spot. Nikunen's arrival also signals that headquarters likely wants even tighter control in Manhattan, where several important crime categories — including murder, rape and assault — have been on the rise.
Materasso, whose career dates back to working with hard-charging Department Chief Louis Anemone — famous for his role in quelling the Crown Heights riots and for pushing the NYPD to be more aggressive in crime fighting in the 1990s — is an extremely well-liked commander who gave his subordinates freedom to work their cases. During his stint in Manhattan, his detecives cracked high-profile murder cases, including the killing of realtor to the stars Linda Stein.
Nikunen, a 26-year veteran, has a varied career commanding precincts in Brooklyn, with stints in Narcotics and the Intelligence Division, before becoming the executive officer in the Chief of Detectives office in May 2008.
Look for more changes in the new year.