The Mollen Commission, officially the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department, was established by New York City Mayor David Dinkins in July 1992 to investigate corruption within the New York Police Department (NYPD).
The Mollen Commission’s proximate cause was the public uproar surrounding the May 1992 arrest of NYPD police officer Michael Dowd and five other NYPD officers on drug trafficking charges by the suburban Suffolk County (New York) Police Department. It was revealed that although Dowd had been the subject of numerous corruption allegations and the target of multiple investigations by NYPD internal affairs personnel during the course of his nine-year career, none of those investigations uncovered any criminal behavior. The scandal unfolded against a larger political and social context of widespread public dissatisfaction with escalating levels of crime and disorder: New York City experienced the highest rates of crime in its history under the Din-kins administration. Dinkins appointed his former deputy mayor for public safety, Judge Milton Mollen, to head the investigation.
The Mollen Commission was the sixth major investigation into police corruption in New York, preceded by the Knapp Commission (1970-1973), the Helfand Investigation (1949-1950), the Seabury Investigation (1932), the Curran Committee (1912), and the Lexow Commission (1895). Each of these investigative entities delved into contemporary patterns and practices of police corruption in the NYPD, and each resulted in organizational changes and policy reforms designed to curtail or eliminate the prevailing corrupt practices of the day. While these reforms were moderately successful, in each instance new patterns of corrupt activity ultimately evolved within a period of about twenty years.
The 1973 Knapp Commission Report, for example, described pervasive and well-organized corruption within the NYPD, much of it related to bribery and graft monies collected in return for protecting criminals involved in gambling, prostitution, and other vice crimes from investigation and arrest. The department’s internal affairs units were restructured, and in conjunction with new anticorruption practices and management policies, they proved highly successful in eliminating these organized forms of corruption.
As the Mollen Report described, however, those structures, policies, and practices did not evolve in response to newly emerging corruption hazards or the opportunities afforded by the proliferation of narcotics through the 1970s and 1980s. It did not find highly organized forms of corruption throughout the agency, but rather discerned there were small pockets or ”crews” of corrupt cops operating in a few high-crime precincts. Rather than profiting from casual graft related to vice crimes, this much smaller number of more predatory cops routinely stole cash and drugs from dealers (typically reselling the drugs to other dealers) or provided protection for drug operations.
Michael Dowd’s drug-dealing activities were emblematic of the new face of corruption, and the internal affairs function was characterized by anachronistic structures and policies as well as by a high level of secrecy and management apathy toward corruption. One internal investigator, Sgt. Joseph Trimboli, testified that his pursuit of Down was routinely obstructed by superiors and that he and other investigators were hampered by an overwhelming caseload devoted largely to the investigation of minor administrative infractions. The decentralized internal affairs units did not routinely share information, they lacked equipment and other resources, and in general their investigators were not highly regarded or highly skilled.
The Mollen Commission also attempted to establish a nexus between police corruption and brutality in the NYPD, calling former officer Bernard Cawley (known on the street as ”the Mechanic” because he frequently ”tuned up,” or beat, people), who testified that he administered at least three hundred beatings to drug dealers in a three-year police career that ended with a 1990 arrest by NYPD for trafficking in guns and drugs.
The commission also addressed the problem of police perjury. Although Dowd, Cawley, and a number of other former officers testified before the Mollen Commission in return for reduced sentences, Dowd nevertheless continued his criminal activities while on bail as a Mollen witness, plotting the kidnap and murder for hire of a drug dealer’s wife and an escape to Nicaragua to avoid prison. He received a fourteen-year prison sentence one week after the Mollen report’s release.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, appointed following the August 1992 resignation of Dinkins’ first police commissioner, Lee P. Brown, instituted a number of immediate reforms to reconstitute and strengthen the agency’s internal affairs function. These reforms were further expanded and enhanced when Police Commissioner William Bratton, appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, took office in January 1994. The highly decentralized Internal Affairs Division was reorganized and elevated to the status of a bureau, and within one year its staff was entirely replaced with a new cadre of highly experienced investigators and supervisors— many of them ”drafted” from among the agency’s best investigative personnel.
New personnel recruitment and rotation policies and greater transparency removed much of the secrecy and suspicion surrounding internal investigations, state-of-the-art equipment was acquired, and new training programs were instituted, and the new Internal Affairs Bureau took on a proactive focus. This proactive focus involves more aggressive investigative practices, the sharing of intelligence information between the Internal Affairs Bureau and commanders of operational units outside the bureau, as well as continual monitoring and analysis of corruption allegations to identify emerging patterns and trends and to ensure that effective preventive and investigative strategies evolve in synch with those trends.
The Mollen Commission ultimately prescribed about 139 recommendations to reduce corruption through more cogent personnel recruitment and selection policies, structural changes to the internal affairs function, and improved or revised training. One of the Mollen Commission’s principal recommendations was the establishment of a permanent and independent external watchdog entity to continually monitor the NYPD’s policies, practices, and overall effectiveness in controlling corruption. In line with this recommendation, in 1995 Mayor Rudolph Giuliani established the Commission to Combat Police Corruption.