Critics Take Aim at NYPD Foundation

Friday, November 04, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Critics contend a decades-old foundation originally created to help the New York City Police Department buy bullet-proof vests has greatly expanded its mission to include funding controversial counter-terrorism overseas efforts while providing special access to the NYPD to the City's wealthiest citizens and biggest corporations.

But the Foundation and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly say the donors have no influence over departmental operations, and Foundation boosters point to a myriad of successful anti-crime tip lines and reward programs that only exist because they are funded by the non-profit.

There are also calls for more transparency from the group, which has raised more than $100 million since its inception in the 1970s.

The Foundation, housed at 555 Fifth Avenue, has just seven employees, but has a board that has more than two dozen A-listers with names like Tisch, Trump and Wilpon.

Two or three times a year, the Foundation provides prospective donors a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the NYPD.

"We do something called ‘Commanding Officer for an Evening,’" Foundation chair and Town and Country publisher Valerie Salembier said. "We invite people -- educators, officials, local government officials, the clergy, business owners from the five boroughs and private business executives as well -- to attend these sessions."

"They are taken out to various precincts in the five boroughs and the commanding officer of that precinct takes them around and explains the details, shows them the furniture that is falling apart or the plumbing that needs to be fixed and also how a precinct works."

Critics say it gives the well connected special access.

Public Safety Committee Chair Councilman Peter Vallone, who has jurisdiction over the NYPD, took no issue with giving the well-heeled special access to the NYPD if it raises money for things like rewards and crime tips. But, he said, for donors it has to be entirely about giving.

"The 1 percent are always going to have access to things. It's not fair. That's life. Get over it.," Vallone told WNYC. "If they are giving away a ride along, good for them. If the ride along is getting them millions of dollars that we give out in rewards programs, good for them. If they are getting some kind of influence, that's a problem."

The foundation offers the department flexibility for a wide range of programs that are harder to fund through the regularly city budgetary process, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. This includes funds for reward programs, Crime Stopper program and purchasing police equipment -- and, according to its tax returns, several hundred thousand dollars directed annually for the NYPD’s Intelligence Division overseas deployment.

"Our overseas program, our counter-terrorism program," Kelly told WNYC. "The expenses of our officers we assign overseas are paid for by the Police Foundation, studies by the Rand Corporation we have had done, things we can't do through the normal budget of the city."

But critics of the foundation, such as New York Civil Liberties Union's Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn, said the NYPD has used the foundation as an end-run for accountability.

"It’s private money coming with who knows what motivations and who knows what agreements between the foundation and the Police Department,” Dunn said. “That's a dangerous combination. You have a police department that is beholden to a private entity and you end up where there is a situation where there is absolutely no oversight or no transparency about the funding of government operations."

But Kelly said the NYPD is not beholden to donors and dismissed Dunn’s critique.

"We have no contact with those corporations or banks,” he said. “It is through the foundation. There is no influence that is exerted by any stretch of the imagination."

Recently, a $4.6 million grant from JP Morgan Chase to the New York City Police Foundation raised some eyebrows by the anti-Wall Street protesters who claimed the gift was evidence that the NYPD was in bed with the big banks.

Salembier, the longtime foundation chair, said the grant long preceded Occupy Wall Street and was aimed at long overdue technology upgrades for the NYPD.

"I mean, in some precincts just a couple of years ago they were still using carbon paper in typewriters," Salembier said. "I mean, come on, folks. So JP Morgan has been an incredible partner with the foundation for providing technology that the police budget just can't afford. And for anyone to try and make a connection between Occupy Wall Street and JP Morgan is preposterous."

But Progressive Caucus co-chair Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn called for more transparency.

“I think it raises important questions that need to be asked," Lander said. “And than the question is where can we even ask them? So we ask them of the members of this Board of Trustees not in the same that we as a City Council can ask the Commissioner questions at public hearing and places of public oversight."

Dunn, with the NYCLU, has deep concerns about the nexus of the overseas operations of a municipal police force being funded by a private foundation.

"Here's a situation where you have got a private foundation that is directly funding a highly sensitive police department operation and in many respects a high controversial police department operation," Dunn said. "This is not the kind of operation that should be funded by a private entity."

Vallone, the public safety chair, conceded the one area where he says the NYPD-Police Foundation partnership needs more oversight is the Foundation's role in bankrolling the NYPD's overseas operations. He just doesn't know who would have -- or should have -- jurisdiction.

"But the overseas activity funded by a private group -- that's never happened before,” the Queens Councilman he said, “and that perhaps needs to be looked at by an agency or a federal monitor that has some sort of expertise in overseas anti-terror fighting. Local council members from any city don't." 

Odds are as state and federal budget makers continue to further reduce aid to municipalities local police departments are going to be increasingly eyeing the Police Foundation model. Similar Police Foundations have already sprung up in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Critics contend a decades-old foundation originally created to help the New York City Police Department buy bullet-proof vests has greatly expanded its mission to include funding controversial counter-terrorism overseas efforts while providing special access to the NYPD to the City's wealthiest citizens and biggest corporations.


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Comments [4]

Ed, you made my morning. Thanks for the sources and the summaries.

Nov. 20 2011 10:34 AM

This is a good article bringing attention to what's going on behind closed doors between the NYPD and and the NYC Police Foundation. Council Member Brad Lander, is right on the mark calling for more transparency and public oversight.

Nov. 04 2011 09:21 AM
David B. Noble from new jersey

Driving to work this morning, I had the misfortune of hearing the winner of the Tin Ear Award, Public Safety Committe Chair Councilman Peter Vallone, express the following sentiment: "The 1 percent are always going to have access to things. It's not fair. That's life. Get over it.." If he was talking about something as trivial as a ride along, that might be acceptable. But his comment was made in response to allegations of more serious privileged private access to the NYPD. Whether those allegations have a basis or not, Mr. Vallone's comments were at best hopelessly tone-deaf and at worse nauseatingly arrogant.

Nov. 04 2011 09:20 AM
Ed Ravin from Brooklyn, NY

WNYC, you missed the two biggest cases of public/private conflict with the Police Foundation. The Police Foundation receives contributions from major fashion companies, and the money goes to pay for special NYPD units that investigate counterfeit merchandise like fake designer handbags. In other words, corporations are paying money to buy police enforcement for issues that affect their bottom line, issues that otherwise might not be a priority for the NYPD.

The Police Foundation has also paid for an "image consultant" for police commissioner Ray Kelly, work that might be a prelude for a mayoral campaign, and the Police Foundation pays for Ray Kelly's Harvard Club membership, where Kelly dines with people he is networking with. In this respect, the Police Foundation appears to be acting as Kelly's personal piggy bank.


Nov. 04 2011 09:17 AM

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