The former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity has retired from the department after an internal investigation concluded that he had posted hundreds of virulently racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic messages using an online persona.
Deputy Inspector James Kobel’s retirement a week into 2021 came two months after the start of an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau into a series of postings on a message board populated mostly by current and retired NYPD officers.
Follows 2-Month Probe
A report by a City Council committee had concluded that it was likely DI Kobel, using the online pen name “Clouseau,” who had posted messages crudely characterizing President Obama, Eric Garner and his family, Mayor de Blasio’s son, Jews, blacks, local officials and on occasion his own colleagues on the message board "Law Enforcement Rant” during a roughly 14-month period that ended in September.
He was placed on modified duty in early November following the Council Oversight and Investigations Committee’s report and the start of an inquiry by the IAB.
Despite his impending retirement and departure from the department, Mr. Kobel is still expected to face a departmental trial.
“Most likely, he’s going to be coming up on administrative charges,” said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter was ongoing. “It’s not if, it’s when they serve the charges,”
Mr. Kobel, a 28-year NYPD cop, has steadfastly denied being Clouseau. He suggested at the outset of the investigation that the posts were made to appear as if they came from him as payback from an officer who disliked him. The prospect that he was framed was also raised by sympathizers on the “Rant” board, as well as the head of the Captains’ Endowment Association, of which the Deputy Inspector is a member.
The president of the union, Chris Monahan, backed Mr. Kobel since the matter first surfaced.
Doubts About Fair Trial
“Deputy Inspector Kobel has served the City of New York and the NYPD honorably for nearly 29 years,” he said in a statement this week. “Given the current political climate and anti-police sentiment, DI Kobel did not see it as possible to get a fair administrative trial and decided to avail himself of the opportunity to file for retirement.”
A report by the Oversight and Investigations Division released Nov. 6, two days after DI Kobel was placed on modified assignment, concluded that he and “Clouseau” were likely the same person since they share “a number of specific professional and personal characteristics.” They joined the NYPD at the same time; both served under the same Housing Bureau Chief during a similar period; their mothers died the same day; and their fathers died in the same year, at the same age after having been retired from the NYPD with same rank following similar tenures, the report noted. They also attended the same church.
According to the Council’s report, Mr. Kobel, writing as Clouseau, posted to "Law Enforcement Rant" more than 500 times. In addition to the offensive messages, the 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.
Mr. Kobel was appointed commanding officer of the Equal Employment Opportunity Division, a sub-unit of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, in May 2020 and was second in command for four years before that. While in that office he oversaw employment and harassment claims within the department and had a hand in several policy changes with regard to facial hair, religious head coverings and other equal-employment issues, said Tanya Meisenholder, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Inclusion and Mr. Kobel's boss.
“He did take part in driving some of those improvements,” she said during a joint hearing of the Council’s Oversight and Investigations and Public Safety Committees in mid-December.
At the hearing, though, then-Chairman of the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Committee, Ritchie Torres, criticized the NYPD for what he characterized as the slow pace of its investigation into the matter.
Mr. Torres, now a Congressman representing the southwest Bronx who pledged that he would address what he said was a growing epidemic nationwide of similar behavior among police, said the department’s failure to fire Mr. Kobel risked further compromising the department’s already-tenuous relationship with certain communities. During his final hearing as committee chair, while directing his comments and questioning chiefly to First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, he questioned the department’s willingness to root out discrimination and racial animus within the NYPD.
He also sought clarification from Mr. Tucker on how Mr. Kobel could have ascended to such a sensitive position within the department.
The Deputy Commissioner, though, challenged Mr. Torres’s apparent assumption that assignments are based on thorough character examinations gleaned from asking particular questions of promotion candidates.
“The presumption is looking at his or her record that you get a sense of who they are,” he said. “You wouldn’t necessarily know—and especially in this case there was no reason to know or believe or assume that he was any more likely to be the person that we believe him to be now than anyone else in the department.”
Deputy Commissioner Meisenholder, though, said the department was instituting several measures directed at addressing bias where it might exist among officers, including creating a curriculum on race and law enforcement that will be taught to the department's most recent recruits.
Mr. Kobel earned just under $189,000 in 2020 and will be entitled to a yearly pension of more than $100,000 for his NYPD service when he turns 62.
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