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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

NYPD needs a competent spokesperson 

Philip Walzak during a press conference at City

Philip Walzak during a press conference at City Hall on Jan. 7, 2014. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

So NYPD spokesman Phillip Walzak is resigning.

In his 18-month tenure, the former campaign manager, senior adviser and press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio was mostly invisible and at best ineffectual. And that's being kind.

Many at the highest levels of the NYPD, which has prided itself as appearing largely free of politics, viewed him as a political operative for the mayor. As a result, top department officials often kept him out of the loop, including cutting him out of information about investigations. When Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner — the NYPD’s most high-profile case in recent years — Walzak was on vacation. He did not respond to questions.

Still, Walzak's departure is bad news for O’Neill, who doesn’t travel in circles that might familiarize him with a possible successor. That means that he or she also would probably come from City Hall.

The job must be filled quickly because the NYPD is too important to be without a permanent spokesperson. Talk at Police Plaza is that Devora Kaye, a Walzak deputy, also from City Hall, will fill in after he departs later this month. While Kaye is smart and hardworking, she is a 30-something woman with virtually no law enforcement experience in a still macho department where few women are in top decision-making positions. She did not return a call.

Of course, being 30-something, female and lacking law enforcement experience are not necessarily disqualifications. Alice McGillion, perhaps the NYPD’s most effective spokesperson of the past 40 years, was also 30-something and lacked law enforcement experience when Mayor Ed Koch selected her as NYPD spokeswoman. Over a decade, she served three police commissioners, rising to first deputy commissioner, the first and only woman to hold that position.  On the other hand, McGillion came from a police family that lost a relative in the line of duty. She had an understanding and appreciation of what cops face.

Actually, the NYPD has an in-house candidate who just might help resurrect the department’s failing leadership. He is John Miller, the current deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. He served as an FBI spokesman, and before that as Bill Bratton’s spokesman during his first run as commissioner. Whether Miller would consider jumping back to a job he once had is problematic. He seems to be thriving while chasing terrorists.

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