Former Commander Exposes NYPD’s Corrupt Disciplinary Process That Often Gave Cops Special Treatment

Retired NYPD Capt. Warner Frey holds his captain’s shield, captain’s bars and two medals in his home on May 25. Frey saw in intimate detail how top chiefs manipulate the NYPD’s disciplinary system to give connected cops a pass and hammer cops with no connections.

As the commander of a unit that investigated detectives’ misconduct, Warner Frey got a harsh education on the unfairness of the NYPD’s disciplinary system.

Frey, who retired in 2015, told the Daily News earlier this month that as head of the Detective Bureau investigations unit from 2012 to 2014, he saw firsthand that high-ranking NYPD officials routinely meddled in internal probes and cops with the right connections often got special treatment.

Chiefs and other cops above his pay grade often pressed him to close his cases prematurely or curtail investigations of favored officers, Frey said.

“It was the phone at least twice a week saying, ‘What’s going on?’ Many, many times. Different chiefs. They would say, ‘What’s going on with my guy?’ It was always my guy. It got a little old after a while,” Frey said.

The chiefs often seemed to want him to not go too deep for a favored cop.

“I would get a case, especially if it was against a particular unit or a particular person, the phone would start ringing and it is, ‘Get it done. How long is this going to take? Why are you wasting time on this?’ ” he said.

“I’m a captain and when a chief demands certain things, it puts you in a very tough situation.”

The NYPD’s disciplinary system has been getting media attention this year following the department’s decision to make disciplinary case outcomes confidential. In a series of articles in January and March, The News exposed a number of cases that smacked of favoritism.

Frey said chiefs overturned his recommended punishment for cops who had juice or influence.

At the same time, they didn’t hesitate to try to damage careers of cops they didn’t like, Frey said — often because the cop had a run of high crime numbers or there was an old grudge.

“They would say, ‘This guy is no good,’ ” he said. ” ‘Get as much as you can on this guy. I want to really hammer this guy.’ Oh yeah, completely, it happened all the time.”

Senior leadership repeatedly ignored his questions about meddling from chiefs. After two years on the job, Frey concluded the system was an arbitrary and capricious beast.

“These cases always bothered me because it seemed like very high up people seemed to be more interested in protecting these guys than handling the issue at hand,” he said.

“I had been trying to forget them but when The News’ articles came out, it brought all that back to light.”

For its part, the NYPD sharply disputed Frey’s charges.

“The claim that department discipline is determined based on the personal whims of individual commanders is absolutely false and unfair,” NYPD spokesman Phil Walzak said in a statement.

Walzak noted that 396 cops have been fired or forced out since 2014.

“The NYPD holds itself and its members to the highest standards, and administers a fair and consistent disciplinary process to ensure accountability,” he said.

“And the NYPD is always striving to do better, which is why it is continuously exploring new ways to make the discipline process fairer and more efficient.”

The police unions had varying reactions to Frey’s allegations.

Sergeants union head Ed Mullins agreed a double standard exists among chiefs, but wondered: “Why did he (Frey) sit silent all those years and not report it to anyone?”

Detectives union head Michael Palladino noted that interference happens because top brass are in complete control of the system.

“For fairness and some consistency to exist, the discipline process must be a mandatory subject of collective bargaining,” he said. “That would go a long way in narrowing the meddling and the randomness of the penalties.”

Captains union head Roy Richter said he was unfamiliar with Frey’s allegations.

“I do know that at the time period in question (2012 to 2014), I fielded many complaints from commanders in the Detective Bureau of abusive and hostile behavior from senior leadership,” he said.

Some Detective Bureau commanders were forced to retire, subjected to unwarranted punishment or required to meet unattainable performance goals,” Richter said.

Lou Turco, head of the lieutenants union, called Frey, “vindictive, part of the problem, definitely not the solution.”

Frey, 47, was one of the first cops assigned to the nascent CompStat unit. He witnessed the birth of a model of statistics-based crimefighting that’s now ubiquitous across the country. “It was pretty intense,” Frey said.

Frey went from cop to captain in 10 years. He added a law degree from St. John’s University to his résumé in 2010.

In 2012, he was named head of the Detective Bureau investigations unit by then-Chief of Detectives Phil Pulaski. The role was unlike any he had experienced, and not in a good way.

Internal Affairs is supposed to handle all criminal probes of cops, while investigations units handle noncriminal misconduct.

However, Frey’s unit reported to the chief of detectives, not Internal Affairs, and therein lies a flaw in the system, according to Frey, because the needs of investigations sometimes diverged from the interests of top brass.

The investigation of Detective Thomas Rice is a perfect example of the broken system, in Frey’s opinion.

Rice, a detective with the 106th detective squad in Queens, was found to have made up dozens of fake names and addresses to close 22 grand larceny cases. But he got to keep his job and his rank and escaped criminal prosecution. He was penalized just 20 vacation days.

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