Clouseau has left his virtual precinct.
Hundreds of crass postings on a quasi-public police message board that city officials say were likely made by an NYPD commander who identified himself by the avatar and name of the bumbling-but-endearing inspector played by Peter Sellers in a series of “Pink Panther” films appear to have been taken down.
The posts, which crudely characterized President Obama, Eric Garner and his family, Jews, blacks, local officials and on occasion his own colleagues, colored the message board "Law Enforcement Rant" during a roughly 14-month period that concluded in September.
The officer, Deputy Inspector James Kobel, the commanding officer of the department’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, was placed on modified assignment Nov. 4 following inquiries by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau and the City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Division. Mr. Kobel, a 28-year cop, has since denied he was Clouseau.
But the message board, which looks to have gone online in early 2008, lives on.
It counts about 2,000 members, although few are regular posters, with a minority having visited the site as recently as the last few weeks.
Among LER’s small number of posters, however, the messaging is decidedly right-wing and contrarian, and in some cases reactionary and conspiratorial. Some posts are spattered by coarse language, and racist, misogynistic and violent imagery.
Much of the messaging, though, is the type of bonhomie and yarn-spinning you might overhear in barrooms among coteries of coarsened professionals. Some posters are veterans of the armed forces. Many are retired.
Its members are overwhelmingly pro-President Trump, such that even Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani, two of Mr. Trump’s most steadfast allies, were recently discredited by some on the forum as sellouts wallowing in “the swamp.”
An expressed disdain of Democrats, the media (“fake news”) and progressivism is, if not the board’s lifeblood, then a persistent theme.
In apparent sympathy with their colleague, some posters include the phrase “I am Clouseau” at the conclusion of their messages, echoing the “I am Charlie Hebdo” refrain that followed the 2015 murder of 12 people inside the Paris headquarters of the satirical, and expressly left-wing, French newspaper.
A note accompanying the predominant thread, “The Locker Room,” reads: “Everyone is encouraged to register and speak your mind on any topics” along with a disclaimer that postings “do not reflect” policies or positions of any departments.
“If you are offended by opinions or harsh language and words then please leave,” it continues.
Attempts to interview its moderators were unsuccessful.
A Trickle-Down Effect?
The recent rise of anonymous and encrypted platforms that enable people from all professions and persuasions to disseminate messaging that doesn’t follow conventional lines has a particularly receptive audience with police officers, with “Law Enforcement Rant” one among several similar messaging boards.
But Deputy Inspector Kobel’s relatively high leadership post has cast a harsh light on the NYPD and its ability to modulate the extent to which officers express themselves on those forums, according to Brian Levin, a Professor of Criminal Justice and the Director of Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, and a former NYPD officer.
“This kind of ranting really has a deleterious effect on the credibility of departments,” he said during a recent phone interview. “[Police] Departments have to send a message that ‘we have particular values.’ ”
“His position made these alleged postings even more egregious,” Professor Levin continued, alluding to Mr. Kobel. “I don’t know how the hell you can do your job and do those kinds of postings, because the critical currency that police departments have with communities is equal treatment under the law."
Forced to Choose Sides
Given that even elected officials no longer shy away from expressing xenophobic and bigoted sentiments, that messaging will trickle down, especially among those who have grievances, he said.
“This political season has created a rift that you can’t be pro-Black Lives Matter and also pro-police, which is unfortunate because we’re supposed to be working for the same effort,” Professor Levin said.
The irony, he said, is that the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit has had a measurably positive effect. He also noted the recent appointment of Juanita Holmes, a black woman, as Chief of Patrol, which made her the highest-ranking female in the department’s history.
As head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Division, a sub-unit of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Deputy Inspector Kobel oversaw employment and harassment claims within the department.
According to the NYPD, the division facilitates “major changes” in department policies, including regarding beards, head coverings and transgender issues to “ensure the Department is responsive and accommodating to the diverse needs of its members.”
Crossed Lines Repeatedly
According to the City Council’s report, Kobel, writing as Clouseau, posted to "Law Enforcement Rant" more than 500 times. His posts variously advocated for a work slowdown, published confidential information about colleagues and “accused specific NYPD personnel of misconduct.” He also detailed “his own on-duty misconduct,” the report said.
The report concluded that the Deputy Inspector and “Clouseau” are likely the same person since they share “a number of specific professional and personal characteristics,” such that he and Mr. Kobel joined the NYPD at the same time; that both served under the same Housing Bureau Chief during a similar period; that their mothers died the same day; and that their fathers died in the same year, at the same age, and after having been retired from similar from the NYPD for a similar length of time.
They also attend the same church.
There have been suggestions, including on “Law Enforcement Rant,” that Mr. Kobel was framed by a colleague who took a dislike to him. Capt. Chris Monahan, the president of the Captains’ Endowment Association, of which Deputy Inspector is a member, hinted as much in a statement.
He said Mr. Kobel “is a dedicated professional” who had “conducted thousands of internal investigations over the last several years.
“Clearly, he has angered some people along the way. In any event, he looks forward to being fully exonerated when all the facts come out,” Captain Monahan said in a statement.
A Training-Manual Matter
Commissioner Dermot Shea, who said he was “saddened” and “disgusted” by the posts, nevertheless cautioned that the department’s investigation was ongoing and that no inferences should be drawn about the Deputy Inspector’s association with the posts.
Placing Mr. Kobel on modified assignment, though, “was prudent” pending the inquiry’s outcome, he added.
“That is a drastic step, but we thought it was the appropriate step due to the nature of his assignment, as well as the allegations and what we have learned thus far,” the Commissioner said.
Professor Levin praised the department’s handling of the matter.
“The transparency in the way this is being handled is a good thing. This will be in our training manuals.”
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