NEW YORK CITY — Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir once proudly declared he was the toughest disciplinarian in NYPD history.
Don’t tell that to Raymond Kelly.
In 2012, 14,200 vacation days were stripped from his police officers for disciplinary reasons such as dissing bosses, cursing the public, roughing up prisoners or missing court hearings — that's nearly double the 7,400 days Safir reached in 1999.
And Kelly was managing 35,000 officers, while Safir’s NYPD had 40,000.
“The discipline was Draconian,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the city’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association that represents 24,000 officers.
“The Kelly administration was obsessed with numbers, whether it involved arrests, stop-and-frisk, or writing summonses. And it has had a huge impact on why morale is so low.”
During his 12 years atop the NYPD, Kelly, a former Marine, centralized power so that little could be done without his approval, even with minor management decisions such personnel transfers and discipline, insiders say. The approach fostered an extraordinary level of control.
Having witnessed several devastating scandals during his career, Kelly wanted to prevent any similar occurrence on his watch. And following the ticket-fixing fiasco, Kelly made it an automatic 10-day penalty for any officer who failed to properly write a summons or missed a court appearance.
The problem, however, was that most officers writing summonses are relatively young and have only 12 vacation days a year. So Kelly was often stripping them of their entire time off.
Roy Richter, president of the Captains Endowment Association, maintains that Kelly’s “approach over the last five years was more and more toward punishing officers rather than correcting mistakes that were being made.”
A former top police official involved in the disciplining of officers said automatic punishment “hurts good performers who had a legitimate reason for a mistake and it strips authority from managers, and that is not what discipline is for.”
Lynch said the onerous punishment actually discouraged officers from being aggressive and, when it came to writing tickets, they shied away rather than risk making a mistake.
Kelly eventually trimmed back the automatic hit to three-days, but as the former top official observed "where discipline is automatic, that can really rack up your numbers."
The 14,000 manpower days translates to having 60 officers on duty for an entire year, which is about half the size of an average NYPD precinct.
“I believe this was a collective bargaining strategy by the Bloomberg administration to balance the books and fill spots without having to pay for it,” said Michael Palladino, president of the detectives union.
Newly installed NYPD Commissioner William Bratton surprised a Compstat meeting of top commanders at Police Headquarters last Thursday. In his speech, the returning commissioner expressed his admiration for the work the department had done since he left in 1996 before announcing his vision of collaboration between the NYPD and the community.
He emphasized that officers who wilfully break the rules will be punished accordingly, and that he would trust supervisors and bosses to mete out appropriate discipline.
"I will not be a micro-manager," Bratton said, adding that he will be encouraging creativity, sharing ideas, risk taking and, arguably most importantly, he "will not punish people for making honest mistakes."