Shadow Plays

The NYPD’s Patrol Guide, comprising more than two thousand pages of arcane detail and picayune instruction, is so heavy, that dropping it from a second-story window will leave a large crack in the sidewalk. Thus, it is incredible that the Guide did not apply to two events that occurred last week — or did it?

First, an unnamed detective, whose actions led to the death of an innocent bystander, retired before internal charges could be brought against him for violating the Patrol Guide. The detective, suffering from post-traumatic stress disease as a result of the incident, was awarded a Line of Duty disability pension, otherwise known as a three-quarter-salary-income-tax-free pension, which seems, well, a little unfair. Second, several former high-ranking officers filed a grievance claiming they were forced to retire before they could be brought up on charges related to a corruption investigation. The officers’ argument that they were cheated out of their unused vacation and comp time, seems, if not unfair, then cheekily ill-advised.

Now, I’m all in favor of officers receiving their deserved pension, and it’s not like there is a rule against retiring while under investigation — but hey, what’s this? “As a rule, if you are under investigation we don’t allow you to retire,” an authoritative sounding police source once said. Clearly, this is a rule not set in stone: “Thankfully, he will at least be able to get the benefit of his 31 years of service by [retiring and] receiving his pension,” said the lawyer for officer Jay Poggi, who retired last year while being investigated for drunkenly shooting his partner in the wrist.

I’m so confused; but then, if there is such a rule, isn’t the deterrent effect defeated if you allow officers to retire and receive their pensions, instead of facing possible discipline? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously, since the NYPD suffers from a structural defect by not demarcating clear lines of acceptable conduct: a rule is a rule, until someone decides it isn’t, at which point it becomes a suggestion, or a wish, or random blots of ink on paper.

Section 206 of the Patrol Guide gives detailed explications of the offenses subject to discipline, and their punishment, but a close reading shows that a superior officer has almost complete discretion to decide how, when, and for what he wants to punish an officer, which Commissioner Jim O’Neill recently acknowledged. There are so many variables that go into determining discipline, it’s a mockery to call it a system, it’s more of a scheme; those that have the power, utilize it in an obscure, random and unfathomable manner. Those without the power, which includes individual officers, and the general public, are left in the dark.