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NYPD Chief Who Criticized Surge In Vehicle Pursuits Ousted


Chief of Risk Management Matthew Pontillo was forced to resign last week in connection with his concerns about a surge in police vehicle pursuits.

Yoav Gonen, Katie Honan, and Harry Siegel, The City

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

NYPD Chief of Risk Management Matthew Pontillo testifies at a City Council Hearing along with former First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
Matthew Pontillo, left, who served until recently as NYPD chief of risk management, testified at a City Council hearing in 2019 along with former First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker. | John McCarten/New York City Council

A top chief who was in charge of the NYPD’s risk management bureau — and who expressed concern about the department’s massive surge in vehicle pursuits — was ousted last week by the newly appointed police commissioner, according to multiple sources.

Chief Matthew V. Pontillo, who served as chief of the Risk Management Bureau since 2021, was charged with identifying potential misbehavior and taking steps to prevent it. 

As the number of vehicle pursuits skyrocketed by nearly 600%, as THE CITY previously reported, Pontillo was critical of the aggressive practice, recently going so far as to flag 20 officers involved in such pursuits for additional training or supervision.

Those actions put him at odds with other high-ranking officers and paved the way to his forced resignation, according to multiple former NYPD officials.

It does not stop…

Pontillo also served as a liaison to the federal monitor installed in November 2014 to address the NYPD’s unconstitutional implementation of the policing tactic known as stop-and-frisk. In that capacity, he also expressed concern over the NYPD’s new enforcement unit known as the Community Response Team (CRT), the sources said, for operating with a lack of transparency.

The khaki-wearing quality-of-life team, which serves under Chief of Patrol John Chell, was assembled in June 2022 as a small group that primarily targets stolen vehicles, illegal motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and cars with paper plates. 

But the unit’s purview has since expanded to include robberies and shootings — which top police officials say are linked to the illegal vehicles.

According to one current and one former NYPD official, the groups have been conducting a high number of vehicle stops and engaging in relatively aggressive policing, but with less vetting and training than the reconstituted anti-crime units that were disbanded under former Mayor de Blasio in 2020.

The CRT units, which have been featured in NYPD promotional videos, grew by at least 150 officers across the borough patrols earlier this year with the approval of Mayor Eric Adams, who has said he supports the department’s more aggressive vehicle pursuit practices.

Forced Resignations

Pontillo was shown the door Aug. 14 by NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, who has made multiple leadership changes since being appointed the city’s top cop last month. Many of those involved offering top department officials the opportunity to retire or else face a significant demotion. 

While departures of top executives under a new commissioner are standard, the sources allege that a number of the ousters — including of Pontillo — targeted officials who were diligently working to keep the NYPD in check.

“He was critical of the pursuits in general and the Community Response Teams in particular — that they weren’t performing properly,” said a former high-ranking NYPD official. “Basically, [department leaders] knew he wasn’t going to sweep things under the rug or turn a blind eye.”

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban speaks in Manhattan about the agency using drones.
Police Commissioner Edward Caban, with Mayor Eric Adams, speaks at a press conference last month. | Marcus Santos/THE CITY

Several former NYPD officials attributed a similar motivation to the forced resignation of Department Advocate Amy Litwin, a former Bronx assistant district attorney. At the police department, Litwin prosecuted cops for misconduct at internal disciplinary hearings. Her departure was first reported by the publication The Free Lance.

Two former police officials said Litwin supported imposing significant discipline in the case of Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, whom the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) recently found had abused his authority in 2021 by ordering police in Brooklyn to void the gun-related arrest of a former cop.

Former NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell backed the CCRB’s findings and ordered Maddrey punished, a decision that clashed with the mayor and contributed to Sewell’s abrupt resignation in June. Maddrey’s case is pending prosecution by the CCRB before an NYPD administrative judge.

An NYPD spokesperson who didn’t provide their name said it’s “customary” in any new administration for changes to be made in the upper ranks.

“Those changes are being made with a great deal of care and consideration,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Commissioner Caban is building a strong team to help lead the NYPD into the future and that work remains ongoing.”

Pontillo did not respond to multiple calls and texts seeking comment.

‘Menace to Society’

Even before his promotion to chief of patrol, Chell was vocal about targeting illegal motorbikes, ATVs and so-called “ghost vehicles” with fake license plates.

He put them in his sights last summer with an offensive that took hundreds of motorbikes off the street at a time.

“Tonight, we attacked quality of life — illegal, unregistered bikes as you see here,” Chell said in an Instagram post in August 2022. “These bikes are a menace to society, and we will not stop enforcing illegal bikes on our streets.”

In April, Chell doubled down on that message, calling ATVs and ghost cars “the number one thing that’s killing us.”

“Well, it stops now,” Chell said in an Instagram post that month. “We’re no longer gonna be taunted by these guys and gals on these bikes.”

On July 5, THE CITY published the first of several articles documenting the increase in NYPD vehicle pursuits — with more recorded in the first six months of 2023 than in the prior five years combined.

The next day, Chell confirmed that pursuits are up, saying that “the days of driving around this city lawless doing what you’re thinking you’re going to do, it’s over.”

He also confirmed the expanded purview of the Community Response Teams, tying illegal vehicles to more serious crimes.

“We also realized that the street violence we were getting at the time involved these same types of vehicles as it relates to robberies and shootings,” he said. “So we made a pledge: no more.” 

Just weeks later, Pontillo’s Risk Management Bureau flagged 20 officers for potential training or additional supervision because of their involvement in vehicle pursuits or collisions during the first three months of 2023 — part of a wider “early intervention” process that identifies cops who appear to be headed off track.

Finding out…

Those 20 officers account for a 900% increase over the two officers flagged for vehicle pursuits in each of the risk management bureau’s two prior reports — a jump first reported by the New York Daily News.

In an Early Intervention Report published July 28, the risk management unit — recently redubbed the “Professional Standards Bureau” — recommended that 18 of the 20 officers receive some form of intervention to address their conduct. 

Pontillo’s ouster came just weeks later. It was within days of Caban saying he tapped a working group to come up with a redefinition of vehicle pursuits — a shift that will make it more challenging to compare future numbers to past ones.

Federal Monitor

While NYPD leaders have boasted about the CRT’s work, the unit’s staffing has until recently been somewhat of an off-the-books affair, according to one current and one former NYPD official.

Both sources said Chell and his supervisor, Maddrey, had been staffing the unit with what’s known as “telephone message transfers,” which involve assigning personnel to the unit via phone calls rather than with formal transfer requests.

The tactic would make it appear, for example, that members of the unit were still staffing a precinct in Brooklyn while they were actually conducting vehicle stops in The Bronx.

The unofficial roster created an issue when the federal monitor overseeing the department’s reforms to stop-and-frisk caught wind of the Community Response Team, and requested a list of assigned officers, according to the two sources.

The roster provided by top NYPD officials — and relayed through Pontillo’s office — omitted a significant number of members of the team, including officers who were identified as CRT members on Twitter or prominently featured in the NYPD’s “True Blue” online videos touting the team’s work.

In recent months, NYPD officials shifted responsibility for coordinating with the monitor out of risk management and into the department’s legal bureau.

They also recently halted a program launched in December 2018 by Pontillo’s predecessor as deputy commissioner of risk management, Jeff Schlanger, which Schlanger said had been “praised” by the monitor.

Under the program, dubbed RISKS (Remediation of Identified Situations Key to Success), the Risk Management Bureau met with the leadership of every precinct twice a year and went through stop-and-frisk statistics to address the chronic issue of under-reporting.

Despite the monitor’s happiness with the program, NYPD leadership nixed it in September 2022.

“The city appears to have adopted an approach of shrugging their shoulders and saying they’ll live with a monitor forever,” Schlanger, who left the NYPD in 2021, told THE CITY.

In June, the monitor’s most recent report focused on the reconstituted anti-crime units introduced last year by Adams, known as Neighborhood Safety Teams, and described “disappointing” results.

“Too many people are stopped, frisked, and searched unlawfully,” wrote the monitor, Mylan Denerstein.

The report’s conclusion specifically cited the NYPD’s elimination of the RISKS program, saying that getting rid of it “with no apparent procedure to replace it indicates a lack of accountability for compliance.”
THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

  • Republished with Permission: The Roosevelt Island Daily News
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