MANHATTAN — The abrupt resignation Friday of NYPD chief of staff Philip Banks III, the highest ranking African-American in the police department, sparked a firestorm of criticism from
Politicians and community groups concerned about the dwindling diversity in the upper echelon of the nation's largest police force.
Banks' resignation comes as the NYPD is dealing with the fallout from a federal ruling that the police policy of stop and frisk unfairly discriminated against black and Latino men — as well as the recent fatal chokehold placed on Eric Garner, an African-American father of six, during an NYPD arrest on Staten Island.
Banks. a 28-year-veteran, was slated to become first deputy commissioner on Monday, replacing Rafael Pineiro, the highest ranking Latino in the police department, who also resigned in September.
Bratton, Banks and Pineiro were all finalists for the job of police commissioner.
Sources say Banks resigned because he felt his new job had less power and responsibility than his current position.
Banks told those close to him that Police Commissioner William Bratton had vowed to beef up the position from the largely figurehead role it had under former commissioner Ray Kelly in a meeting earlier this week — but was told during a meeting Friday morning that was not the case, said sources.
"The fact that just ten months into this administration, the top uniformed police officer believed that he had to resign in deeply troubling, especially on the heels of First Deputy Police Commissioner Rafael Pineiro’s retirement," Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement.
"I am most concerned about making sure the reforms promised to this city are real and lasting, and that our commitment to a diverse police leadership is unflinching,” added James, who is the first African-American woman elected to citywide office.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said "diversity within the top ranks of the NYPD is critical to the success of the department," in a statement.
"With Chief Banks and Chief Pineiro now leaving, we have to ensure that we continue to have leadership at the top of the NYPD that reflects the City of New York," added Stringer.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been de Blasio's most high-profile and influential ally in the black community, sent out an announcement that he had spoken with de Blasio about diversity in the police department from where he was in Ferguson, Mo. Friday.
Sharpton said he would address the issue at his National Action Network rally in Harlem on Saturday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Bratton at City Hall on Friday. Hours later, de Blasio released a generic statement saying he was "disappointed" to hear about Banks' "personal decision" to step down.
Bratton also insisted earlier Friday that Banks stepped down for personal reasons.
However, in a Twitter message on Friday afternoon, Banks explicitly cited "professional reasons" for his departure.
Retired NYPD sergeant Anthony Miranda, head of the Latino Officers Association of America, said the departures of both Banks and Pineiro sends the wrong message to Latino and African-American city residents and police officers.
"This is the worst time to be without minority representation considering the relationship that needs to be worked on between the NYPD and communities of color," said Miranda. "We are going back to a police department dominated by all white males."
On Friday, an appeals court approved the city's request to drop its appeal to the stop and frisk class action lawsuit over the objections of the city's police unions. A grand jury on Staten Island was empanelled to examine whether the officer who attempted to arrest Garner will face criminal charges.
A debate has also ensued over Bratton's use of "Broken Windows" policing, where police officers focus on low-level crimes to deter larger ones. Many believe it has the same discriminatory effect as stop and frisk.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a study this week which showed that young, minority men have seen the largest increase in misdemeanor arrests over the last three decades.
Political consultant Basil Smikle said Banks was viewed as a counterweight to concerns about Bratton in the minority community.
"The question now is where does the balance come from," asked Smikle. "It's a huge blow to the process people were relying on to make change."
Bronx Councilman Andy King said Banks' departure doesn't make sense given that de Blasio ran on a platform of ending stop and frisk and "committing to improving police and community relations."
Banks was in a position to help monitor and guide the changes and was considered a key liaison to communities of color, said King.
"How do you let that individual go? How do you let them resign?" King said. "It's like the Bulls having Michael Jordan and letting him go just to let him go."