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.”
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.
In 2013, as Frey probed allegations that Rice had falsified work records, he wanted his investigators to examine a broader cross section of the detective’s cases and perform a citywide audit of other cops to see if they did the same thing.
He also wanted to probe whether Rice took NYPD pay while he worked a second job at the power-washing company he owns.
Higherups blocked all those efforts, Frey said.
He was urged to end the investigation, and his bosses were unwilling to press the Queens DA to open a criminal probe, he said.
“I was told just finish it,” he said.
Frey told The News he was appalled that Rice’s penalty was just 20 days, with no criminal referral to prosecutors.
“I didn’t understand why the department at the end of the whole investigation gave him such a minimal sanction,” he said.
“Because from what I remembered of the case, I never imagined that somebody would be so blatant to falsify these records.”
The controversial decision didn’t see the light of day until January, when it exploded onto the cover of The News in a series of stories that so angered the detectives union it bought a billboard on Wall St. attacking the newspaper.
In the wake of those articles, however, both the NYPD and the Queens district attorney’s office opened new investigations into Rice’s history.
After finding 10 additional cases with dozens more fake names and addresses, the NYPD on May 17 filed new charges against Rice, demoted him and forced him to retire. He may face criminal charges.
Frey called Police Commissioner James O’Neill’s decision this month to reopen the investigation and penalize Rice 60 days for the additional misconduct, “commendable.”
The retired investigator also oversaw the probe of Brooklyn transit robbery officer Sgt. Ruben Duque, which found Duque often stayed home when he claimed he was at work investigating robberies in the subways.
Duque not only kept his job, but he was promoted while the investigation was pending.
During that investigation, Frey said, now-Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea pressured him to close the case because Duque’s brother Juan, also a cop, was a favored aide.
“It bothered me that they promoted him anyway with the case hanging over him,” said Frey. “I would like to know why they did it. Nobody has justified it.”
NYPD spokesman Walzak noted that Shea was an inspector at the time, not a chief.
“The notion that an inspector would have the ability to influence a disciplinary outcome suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the NYPD rank structure,” he said.
“More importantly, there has been absolutely zero complaints made or evidence produced that Chief Shea attempted to influence the outcomes in this or other disciplinary matters. To assert otherwise with no proof is an unfair and baseless character attack.”
And then there was the investigation by Frey’s unit of Manhattan sex crimes Lt. Adam Lamboy, who was found to have been stealing time while he was supposedly working rape cases.
Lamboy, who boasted of having top brass on speed dial, kept his job despite getting nailed by Frey’s team. Top brass refused to press Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. to open a criminal investigation, Frey said.
Lamboy might still be with the NYPD had he not gone with another cop to Seattle and behaved improperly with a rape victim.
In contrast, Frey said, a special victims detective, Reiner Fehrenbach, who was not a favored cop, lost 20 vacation days in 2014 — the same punishment as Rice — for merely failing to sign out in a logbook.
Frey said he recommended a lesser punishment for Fehrenbach, but higherups overruled him because, he believes, they didn’t like Fehrenbach.
Or consider the call Frey got from IAB in March 2013. A detective was in trouble for firing his gun in New Jersey under questionable circumstances.
An Internal Affairs Bureau cop called Frey and asked if he would recommend a pending promotion for the detective. Frey declined because the case was still open and there were issues that needed to be resolved.
Soon four chiefs called and begged him to give his seal of approval, Frey said.
Finally, Frey said, “If you want to promote him, then do it.”
When the case showed up in the media the next day, the chiefs’ interest disappeared.
Frey thinks that the chiefs in a given bureau should be barred from meddling in cases in their commands. The disciplinary system should be influence-free, he said.
“Who monitors these chiefs?” he asked. “The police commissioner is supposed to be monitoring these people, but it doesn’t happen. . . . They are like kings.”
Frey had repeatedly declined to be interviewed by The News about the Rice, Duque and Lamboy cases.
But in March, after The News had published its exposé on Rice and was running a series on police misconduct, Internal Affairs Bureau cops demanded Frey speak with them about the Rice case. At one point, an inspector and another officer, both armed, waited outside his home in an unmarked car.
“I’d been off the job for three years and I hadn’t said a bad word about anyone,” he said recently. “Why is Internal Affairs coming to my house with visible firearms? My neighbors were terrified. It was outrageous.”
Frey said he agreed to talk with The News this month only because of that visit from IAB.