NEW YORK — It is a unique dispute in New York law enforcement, with police unions pitted against one another over the competency of a commander.
Last week, more than 70 placard-carrying New York Police Department sergeants took to the streets, demanding that Capt. Sheldon Howard -- who heads a unit patrolling housing projects in Queens -- must go.
The Sergeants Benevolent Assn. charged that the 18-year department veteran had, among other things, issued improper summonses, underreported crime statistics to make his unit look good, and even discouraged citizens from calling the city's 311 number, which handles quality-of-life complaints.
Howard has not commented on the dispute.
"We want the department to investigate" Howard, said Ed Mullins, the sergeants union's president, on Friday. "We have no confidence in the ability of the captain to lead this command. We have a hostile work atmosphere over there. The community deserves better. Morale is at an all-time low."
Mullins said the union filed a complaint with the NYPD more than a year ago, and had sent representatives to speak with Howard about its grievances. Howard in turn filed a bias complaint with the department's Equal Employment Opportunity Office, charging that a union representative, Sgt. Ed Scott, had directed an anti-Semitic remark at him.
Scott has denied the allegation.
"Basically, our rank and file has had enough. They are frustrated," Mullins said. "They are doing a good job. They are basically being abused."
Top brass at the department were not pleased when the sergeants -- whose rally included a 20-foot-tall inflatable rat -- decided to take their fight public.
"It is the opinion of the department that this demonstration was, in fact, an unfair labor practice, and we will proceed accordingly," Paul Browne, deputy commissioner for public information, said in a statement.
Howard's supporters decided to strike back with a counter-demonstration.
"He is an incredibly effective police officer," New York state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, who represents the district Howard serves, said during the rally Friday. "He has always been a hands-on person who is on top of these things. Whatever the criminal matter is, he has been there.... We were stunned when we saw some sergeants leveling charges," Mayersohn said.
John Driscoll, president of the Captains Endowment Assn., said he had spoken with Howard, who was "dismayed it has gotten to this point."
"Shelly has been on the force for 18 years, and a captain for about three years; he has a perfectly clean record," Driscoll said.
"My personal opinion, not knowing all the facts, is this is a personality conflict. If the Sergeants Benevolent Assn. has made these allegations, the department will investigate them fully," Driscoll said.
"It's the sergeants union getting excited because a delegate is having problems with a commanding officer," Driscoll added. "It's retaliation by allegation.... If you want to grandstand for your members, there are better ways to do it than a useless demonstration with a rat."
The one thing Driscoll and Mullins agreed on was that they had never seen a rally directed against a commanding officer.
When the sergeants' rally was over, Mullins was charged with using amplified sound without a permit. He could be fined $100 or sentenced to 30 days in jail.