NEW YORK CITY — NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton dusted off the city's Conflict of Interest rule book during a summit with top police brass to read them the riot act about laws that govern accepting gifts and gratuities from the public and people doing business with the city, DNAinfo New York has learned.
It boiled down to a single dictum: Officials can not accept anything worth more than $50 in value.
“Afterwards, a few said they felt they nearly fell off their chairs,” a source said.
The ethics refresher was ordered as the burgeoning federal probe into police corruption has resulted in the transfers of nine officers, including eight high-level supervisors, many of them stripped of their guns and badges, for their dealings with two wealthy Brooklyn businessmen who are also large donors to Mayor Bill de Blasio and were on his Inauguration Team.
The commissioner has said he has not seen so many top officials caught in a scandal since the Knapp Commission uncovered systemic NYPD corruption with protection rackets and drug dealer rip-offs in the mid 1970s. After that, the NYPD began to warn New York's Finest to avoid taking even a free cup of coffee during their rounds.
But over time, that bright ethical line has dimmed with even the highest ranking officers returning to being “Princes of the City” who feel entitled to free meals at swanky restaurants, orchestra seats at sold-out Broadway shows, box seats at sporting events, lavish East Hampton soirees and private jet rides to foreign cities partly paid by real estate developers with city business.
“It’s systemic breakdown,” a former top official said.
“On the Inside” has conducted numerous interviews with current and former top police and law enforcement officials.
The consensus is that no single police commissioner or high-ranking chief can be blamed for creating a generation of supervisors who have lost their ethics compass.
But the tone starts at the top, they say.
Bratton, for example, was not immune to criticism from his then-boss Mayor Rudy Giuliani for enjoying the city’s nightlife during his first stint at 1PP in the mid 1990s.
He was followed by Police Commissioner Howard Safir, who was ordered by the city to repay $7,000 for an all-expenses trip to the Oscars on a private jet owned by billionaire Ron Perelman.
Then Commissioner Bernard Kerik was brought down for accepting discounted renovations on a home, among other transgressions.
And even former Commissioner Raymond Kelly, during 12 years atop Police Headquarters, was widely seen hobnobbing with the city’s elite.
He was also caught spending $30,000 on a NYC Police Foundation credit card at the Harvard Club and helped shift the group’s annual fundraiser from austere Police Headquarters to the Waldorf-Astoria, where he and his wife befriended Hollywood celebrity hosts.
“That’s the kind of behavior that signals it’s OK to do more than just interact with the public, and people with power and money,” another former longtime official added.
Sources recalled times when wealthy entrepreneurs tossed lavish affairs — one was timed to the birthday of a former top NYPD official — at their Long Island homes, complete with an NYPD helicopter fly over.
One event was so large that staffers needed golf carts to shuttle guests from their cars to the mansion, he said.
“Everyone showed up, driving government cars, and there were drinks and food, and that is the genesis of all this bulls--t,” a source said. “When you see your boss there, it says 'this is all right,' and now you're down the slippery slope.”
In recent years the NYPD also stopped its conflict-of-interest instruction, which had been an annual ritual, officials said. Ethics questions that appeared on NYPD advancement exams also disappeared, officials said.
Even an anti-corruption measure implemented by Kelly seemed to backfire when he gave precinct commanders credit cards — paid for by the Police Foundation — to pay for food or meals. But that unwittingly placed them closer to precinct movers-and-shakers.
“When I joined the department, it was ingrained in my head that I could not take anything for free,” a top commander told “On the Inside.” “It stayed with me, but there are not many people who think that way today.”
In fact, the opposite may be the case, the official said.
In certain communities, business and civic leaders historically try to get close to police brass to enhance their own image, but they also have contacts at Police Headquarters or City Hall who can help a supervisor's career.
In Manhattan, police brass meet titans of industry, real estate and finance with connections reaching into the Police Commissioner's or Mayor's office.
“And the community affairs officers at these precincts are among the most powerful in the city because they are the point person with the corporate heads or companies such as HBO, which needs street closure for a film shoot,” a source said.
Some have asked where the Internal Affairs Bureau was while all this was going on.
“When you see the Chief of Department attending these events, even IAB gets the message that this is not something the department cares about," another former law enforcement official said. “Corruption was not something to expose.”