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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NYPD | Mollen Commission, Police Corruption

L to R: Richard J. Davis, Ross Sandler, Judge
Harold Baer, Jr.
NYC, March 20, 2012–This morning I traveled downtown to Worth Street to hear a retrospective discussion of the work of the Mollen Commission at the New York Law School. (Personal aside: Among the alumni of NYLS is John A. Milholland, Harvard Class of 1914–brother of suffragette Inez, who married my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain.)

The Mollen Commission was formally known as "The City of New York Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department". It is named after former judge Milton Mollen, who was appointed its chair in July 1992 by then-NYC Mayor David Dinkins.


In his introduction, the Director of the Center for NY City Law, Ross Sandler, noted that police corruption seems to surface at regular intervals and that successive commissions have wrestled with how to address it.

In 1972, just 20 years before the Mollen Commission was formed, the Knapp Commission issued its report on a sensational series of revelations about corruption in the NYPD, featuring Robert Leuci and Frank Serpico among others. Books and movies followed – “Serpico” and “Prince of the City”. Michael Armstrong, former chief counsel of the Commission, spoke about this report in a February meeting of the Center for NY City Law; his remarks are tapehere. Ross Sandler comments on the 1972 report:
[It] memorably divided the types of corruption by the epigram of “meat eaters” and “grass eaters”. [The former] aggressively sought out opportunities… while grass eaters, the vast majority of the force, were officers who accepted small gratuities, but did not aggressively seek out corrupt opportunities.
Mollen's mandate was to examine and investigate “the nature and extent of corruption in the Department; evaluate the departments procedures for preventing and detecting that corruption; and recommend changes and improvements to those procedures”. The Mollen Commission issued a report in July 1994. Its conclusion was that the nature of corruption had changed since Knapp Commission days. 
Corruption then was largely a corruption of accommodation, of criminals and police officers giving and taking bribes, buying and selling protection. Corruption was, in its essence, consensual. Today's corruption is characterized by brutality, theft, abuse of authority and active police criminality.
The first of the two speakers this morning, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., was a member of the Mollen Commission. He said that the first line of defense against corruption is inside the NYPD, in the form of the integrity control officers who report to the Internal Affairs Bureau. The IAB has a hugely difficult job without outside support. A Commission to Combat Police Corruption was created to monitor the IAB, but Mayor Rudy  Giuliani could not reach agreement with the City Council on the power of the Commission. It therefore became a non-statutory body, appointed by the Mayor.

Discussing the Mayor's Commission was Richard J. Davis, former Chair of the Commission to Combat Police Corruption. He had some simple recommendations for making an investigative committee effective. To summarize:

1.     The Commission should be statutory. The Mayor and City Council must agree on a permanent external monitoring body that can both prod and defend the IAB.
2.     It should have an independent board that is given authority.
3.     In particular, it must have the authority to issue subpoenas. Expecting an agency to respond to investigative questions voluntarily, in a timely way, is expecting too much.  
This was a useful discussion for anyone interested in how to investigate systematic corruption or violation of agency standards. Thank you Ross Sandler, et al. The full record on tape is here.