Claiming that recent incidents of anti-Semitism within the Police Department have been “swept under the carpet,” the organization representing Jewish police officers is promising to take a more aggressive stand in rooting out bias.
“This has gone unnoticed for too long,” says officer Stuart Portner, president of the 2,800-member Shomrim Society. “We think that more attention needs to be paid to anti-Semitic [acts].”
Shomrim, Hebrew for guardians, represents the department’s Jewish officers, civilian employees and retirees. Although the NYPD does not keep track of its employees’ religious affiliations, Shomrim estimates that about 3 percent of the city’s 40,000 cops are Jewish.
The more active stance by Shomrim was prompted by the recent case of Thomas Pappas, a cop who reportedly admitted to returning solicitation cards to charitable organizations with racist and anti-Semitic messages. Pappas was not charged with any crime, but has been subject to an ongoing internal police investigation.
Shomrim insists that Pappas be fired. “This is a man carrying a gun walking around working for the Police Department,” said Portner, a patrolman assigned to the 1st Precinct in the Wall Street area.
But acting on information that Pappas, a 16-year veteran would be allowed to retire with benefits intact, Shomrim contacted the media to press its case against the department.
Marilyn Mode, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information, said no action had been decided upon in the Pappas case, and did not rule out his being fired.
Portner said he had written Police Commissioner Howard Safir — who is the first Jewish commissioner in the NYPD’s history — to express concern about the Pappas case, and had received no reply or acknowledgment of the letter.
Mode said there was no record of Safir’s having received such a letter in the commissioner’s correspondence log.
In a copy of the letter, dated July 27, provided to The Jewish Week, Portner reported that Shomrim was “saddened and angered by the total lack of justice this matter has engendered” and urged Safir to “give this matter your strongest attention. We feel that such conduct on the part of an individual who is sworn to uphold the law equally is unforgivable. …”
Mode said she would continue searching for the letter, and that Safir “does not tolerate any type of discrimination, be it based on gender, race or religious preference. He takes any sort of allegation of any type of discrimination very seriously, and will have them investigated thoroughly.”
Several Jewish leaders said they had no indication the NYPD did not take such incidents seriously. “Incidents do arise,” said Adam Segall, New York director of the Anti-Defamation League. “We don’t see any pattern, but it’s something we’re continually looking at.”
But another board member of Shomrim, Wilton Sekzer, a retired sergeant, says “there is a history over the last three or four years of major incidents involving anti-Semitic remarks and inferences. In all incidents Shomrim felt some type of action should be taken, and as far as we’re concerned, there was absolutely nothing. Zero.”
Sekzer. Shomrim’s executive secretary, said the incidents include alleged anti-Semitic remarks made by several black police officers who were charged with tax evasion last year. Because the officers were charged with a criminal offense and discharged from the department, no separate action was taken over the remarks, said Sekzer, who is now in charge of security at the Manhattan office of State of Israel Bonds.
In another case, Sekzer says, a departmental hearing of a case in which a Jewish sergeant in Queens allegedly pressured a subordinate to dismiss a summons included testimony that the sergeant had been subjected to anti-Semitic harassment. According to Sekzer, there was no investigation of that testimony.
Mode was not familiar with the latter case, which apparently took place under the previous commissioner, William Bratton.
Regarding the tax evasion case, Mode said “a criminal federal trial takes precedence over departmental trial. Inasmuch as the federal case resulted in convictions and consequent dismissals from department… departmental charges [would be] kind of moot at that point.”
The NYPD’s Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Alvin Kass, who is closely involved with Shomrim, did not endorse the notion that anti-Semitism was a problem on the force.”
It is a pervasive reality of life in the world, and it obviously exists in the police department,” said the rabbi, who is spiritual leader of the Conservative East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn. “But it has always been my belief that it exists less in the Police Department than in the outside world.”
Rabbi Kass, who termed the Pappas matter “a very dangerous manifestation of Jew-hatred,” said he had no indication that the matter was not being treated seriously. “As far as I know, there has been no resolution of the case,” he said.
Sekzer, a former Shomrim president, says the organization annually receives two or three complaints of discrimination from its members, but has been scrupulous to avoid pressing questionable cases. Occasionally, officers who cannot get choice days off or have personal problems with superiors claim anti-Semitism.
“We tell new recruits ‘Don’t cry wolf,’ because the first time a Jew cries anti-Semitism and is proven wrong, he can never cry wolf again,” Sekzer said.
Jewish officers have distinguished themselves in their service in recent years, with several members of Shomrim winning the department’s top decorations. A Jewish officer, Keith Levine, was killed in the line of duty while attempting to stop a Manhattan robbery in 1995, while another, Eric Turetzky, broke the notorious “blue wall of silence” in the 70th Precinct torture investigation last year.Information from Turetzky helped build the case against four officers accused of torturing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.