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July 28th, 2006

Put Reznick on the Hot Seat

The Daily News ran a piece yesterday about the Cold Case Squad and I need to vent. The headline was “Cold case officers placed on hot seat,” and the spin was that the detectives were not performing and Deputy Chief Joe Reznick was cracking down.

“Senior executives of the NYPD are expected to manage and lead,” the Deputy Police Commissioner was quoted as saying in defense of Reznick, and that is a legitimate point.

If there are detectives in the Cold Case Squad who are not performing, and I’m sure that this is the case with some of them — like any department in any corporation or organization, you have guys who are slacking off — then get rid of them. And inspire and support the people who are doing a good job.

But this is not what is happening. It is my understanding that Reznick asked everyone in the Bronx unit of the Cold Case Squad (and two in Brooklyn) to put in transfers, including people with stellar arrest records. Nevermind that precincts in the Bronx have the highest number of unsolved murders in New York, and that he would be leaving that entire borough completely without a cold case squad, he asked detectives who are doing a good job to leave. Drop your cases and go. This is effective management?

Clearly cooler heads prevailed and now the demand for transfers has been toned down to the threat of transfers.

Speaking of which — why did Reznick try to completely eliminate the Bronx unit, of all units? When I handed in my book there were 2,936 unsolved murders in the Bronx. That’s roughly 1/3 of all the unsolved murders in all the boroughs put together.

This is not the first time Reznick has responded to a problem this way. He handled an overtime issue using the same blanket, punish-everyone approach. Instead of disciplining detectives who were abusing overtime, he went after every detective in the squad. Saving the city money is a great thing, no one is questioning going after detectives who are abusing overtime. Go for it, and good job. But don’t treat detectives who are legitimately using those hours to lead to arrests like they’re criminals. This is not going to get more murderers off the streets.

Which leads to my second point. Reznick doesn’t seem to be concerned with arresting murderers, he’s more concerned with numbers. Note that Reznick complains that they are not making State arrests. He doesn’t care about the work the detectives do that lead to federal arrests because the NYPD ultimately won’t get credit. Nevermind that those arrests are getting murderers are off the street. [Update 8/2: I have since been corrected about this part. These arrests will show up in the NYPD numbers. So, now I don’t know why he has a problem with State arrests!]

One detective in the article defends Reznick by saying those cases are easy. If they were such a slam dunk, why weren’t they solved already? And is the detective suggesting that the cold case detectives should not pursue these cases and let the murderers go because the cases are not hard enough?? The source also says the feds have already done a lot of the legwork. What’s wrong about getting help from the feds if it’s getting murderers off the streets?

(Reznick’s information was also not correct. At least some of the detectives on the list had made State arrests in the period mentioned.)

Reznick may feel that the homicide detectives in the precincts should be working the unsolved murder cases, but given that clearance rates are going down, and the number of unsolved murders are going up, that would indicate they need the support. This is NOT at all a criticism of the detectives in the precinct.

When a special need arose — terrorism — the NYPD beefed up their counter-terrorism bureau. They didn’t disband it. They didn’t add to the already heavy workloads of everyone in the precincts and ask them to address the problem single handed.

Unsolved murders are going up and Reznick is downsizing. He is not beefing the squad up, or replacing detectives who are not performing with ones that will.

Great leadership is not just discipline, punishment, and worse, bullying. A leader must also inspire, and give his people what they need to do better. There is so much Reznick could be doing to show his people that he is behind them and wants to help them do a better job. How about providing the Cold Case Squad with training to understand the evolving forensic tools that are available? An innovative DNA program that was started just before Reznick got there, and that has since been copied effectively to solve previously unsolved burglary cases was basically shut down by Reznick.

Similarly, the tools for finding information are also rapidly changing — how about bringing in an expert to give a demonstration of what’s out there now?

The reason why none of Reznick’s actions or the given explanations for them don’t add up is because Reznick has another agenda — to eliminate the Cold Case Squad. Viewed in this light it all makes sense. I don’t know why he has it in for them. When I asked him in an interview for my book, he said it was because of the quality of the detectives in the squad when it was formed. And when I asked him to elaborate he said, “They were transit guys.” The New York City Transit Police used to be a separate police department until Giuliani merged them with the NYPD in 1995 (the Housing Police were also included in this merger). A lot of people in the police department thought they were better than the Transit guys. To this day, there are members of the police department who look down on the Transit guys. The reality is, the former Transit guys have some of the best arrest records within the Cold Case Squad, and the guy with the highest arrest record came from Housing (considered by some to be even lower than Transit).

Reznick was just in the Daily News on July 21, in an article about the unsolved 1991 murder in the Bronx of a unidentified child the detectives lovingly named Baby Hope. Reznick is usually in the papers every year about this case. I am not questioning his genuine concern for this child, but what about the other 136 children under 18 who were murdered in the Bronx since 1985, and whose murders were never solved?

Reznick was about to leave them and their families without a single detective to try to find their murderers.

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