When Philip Banks was named deputy mayor for public safety in January, Mayor Eric Adams dodged questions about his longtime pal being named an unindicted co-conspirator in a high profile police corruption case.
While most big Adams announcements took place via well-attended news conferences, Banks’ appointment emerged via a press release sent out late on a Friday.
Since then, Banks has made few public appearances and has answered no questions.
Behind the scenes, however, he has been very busy.
As deputy mayor for public safety, Banks is officially responsible for overseeing agencies that include the Fire Department and Department of Correction. The NYPD is not in his portfolio because the police commissioner is supposed to report directly to the mayor.
But daily schedules obtained by THE CITY show his activities for the first five months of the Adams administration, from January through May, include six sit-downs with top NYPD chiefs — without Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.
Separately, Banks has met regularly one-on-one with Sewell on Sunday afternoons at undisclosed locations.
Those schedules — obtained by THE CITY via the Freedom of Information Law and highly redacted by City Hall — also show Banks meeting with lobbyists from firms that sell law enforcement technologies, including weapons detection and drone surveillance systems.
Working out of a 16th floor office in an anonymous tower a block away from One Police Plaza, this former cop has been immersed in shaping NYPD policy on hot-button issues including efforts to constrain overtime, improve the city’s 911 system, and reform police discipline.
The schedules suggest the mayor even tasked him with examining the use of police traffic stops.
Multiple people from inside and outside the government who have met with Banks told THE CITY that it’s clear the deputy mayor wields tremendous power in the administration.
On one rare occasion when Banks did make public remarks, at a City Council hearing on March 30, he spoke on Sewell’s behalf, as well as for Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Director Deanna Logan.
“Mayor Adams’ commitment to dedicated public safety resources is demonstrated by the creation of the leadership team that sits before you today,” Banks said of the trio. “We are working together collaboratively to execute the mayor’s comprehensive vision for safety in our city.”
THE CITY sent multiple detailed questions to Adams spokesman Fabien Levy, about Banks’ schedule and his role in the administration. Levy declined to comment.
Summits With Sewell
Sprawling is a good word to describe Banks’ activities as the man behind the curtain.
His daily schedules for Jan. 1 through May 31 show the deputy mayor has interviewed many candidates for top political appointments, including the top FDNY job (currently held by Acting Commissioner Laura Kavanagh); positions on the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police misconduct allegations; and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), which promotes criminal justice reform efforts. All are under his official purview.
Banks has met multiple times with two high-powered Adams appointees with whom he has close personal ties: his brother, Schools Chancellor David Banks, and his brother’s companion, Deputy Mayor of Strategic Initiatives Sheena Wright.
With his brother, Banks discussed school safety during a January meeting in the chancellor’s office at school headquarters and “physical education” during an April 21 meeting at an unknown location. The purpose of a third visit with David Banks at school headquarters on May 31 is not listed.
But no city agency has been subject to as much of Banks’ micromanaging as his former employer, the NYPD. His intervention complicates big promises Adams, also a former NYPD officer, made about police leadership under his administration. Adams promised he would appoint the first-ever woman to run the 35,000-member force, and followed through by appointing Sewell, who had been the chief of detectives for Nassau County on Long Island for little more than a year.
The daily schedule shows Banks meeting with Sewell at least 18 times since he joined Team Adams, including 12 one-on-one meetings. Most of these took place on Sundays at a location that City Hall blacked out before releasing the documents to THE CITY. Banks reportedly helped select her for the commissioner job, even before he formally joined the Adams administration.
At first when Banks met with top NYPD brass holding rank below Sewell, the police commissioner was present. But starting in March, the schedules show, Banks began to meet with most of the top chiefs without Sewell’s participation.
That included one-on-ones with Chief of Detectives James Essig for an unspecified “tech demo,” a sit-down with Counterterrorism Chief Martine Materasso to review the network of security cameras in Lower Manhattan, a chat with Chief of Transportation Kim Royster to discuss towing and a meeting with Chief of Training Juanita Holmes to review the 911 call system. His meetings with Chief of Crime Control Strategy Michael Lipetri and Deputy Commissioner Chauncey Parker list no topics.
Banks and the mayor also met with several commanding officers at One Police Plaza in April without Sewell present, and an April 28 meeting at a rental building in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is described on his schedule as an “NYPD Chiefs Meeting.” The building has a ground-floor kickboxing studio.
In March and April Banks held meetings on a topic near and dear to Adams: police overtime. During the campaign, Adams had vowed to cut police OT in half, but by May the department estimated it would spend $750 million in overtime in fiscal year 2022 — well over the $607 million of 2021.
And in May Banks dove into the issue of police discipline, discussing the Internal Affairs Bureau, which serves as the department’s internal watchdog for police misconduct. Twice he addressed this topic in meetings with Adams’ chief counsel, Brendan McGuire — a former prosecutor who was working in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office at the time they were investigating Banks.
All of this is a long way from the morning of Halloween 2014, when, just months into the first term of former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Banks abruptly resigned as chief of department, the highest uniformed member of the NYPD.
Banks said he’d quit after turning down a promotion to a job he didn’t want. But soon reports surfaced that Banks was involved with two corrupt Brooklyn businessmen who would ultimately be convicted in a years-long effort to bribe multiple top cops — including Banks — to win favors from the NYPD such as police escorts for friends and associates.
Banks was already on the FBI’s radar: A day before he resigned, a judge approved a wiretap after the feds outlined their suspicions in a sealed affidavit that Banks was involved in money laundering and tax evasion.
Prosecutors later alleged that the two Brooklyn businessmen, Jona Rechnitz and Jeremy Reichberg, “came to lavish gifts upon and develop a relationship with” Banks, providing Banks with a “luxury tour of Israel,” thousands of dollars in regular meals at “high-end kosher steakhouses,” expensive hockey and basketball tickets and $20,000 in cash disguised as a return on an “investment.”
After Banks resigned, Rechnitz and Reichberg were heard on a federal wiretap “lamenting that they did not get even more for their investment in Banks” and Michael Harrington, a deputy chief who reported directly to Banks. Harrington pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and was sentenced to two years probation. A second officer was acquitted.
In 2019 Rechnitz, who cooperated with the FBI and testified in several corruption cases, received a sentence of 10 months, half of which was to be served via home confinement.
Reichberg went to trial and was convicted of conspiracy, theft of honest services, fraud and bribery. In 2019 he received a sentence of four years in prison. Banks himself was not charged with a crime, but his status as an unindicted co-conspirator in a corruption case was splashed across the press for weeks.
Banks wrote upon taking the Adams administration post: “I never did anything in my official capacity for Rechnitz or Reichberg.”
Surveillance Tech Auditions
Despite unresolved questions about the benefits he allegedly received from favor-seekers ultimately convicted of bribery, Banks now appears to be playing a pivotal role in reviewing law enforcement technologies that companies aspire to sell to New York City.
Under Adams, the deputy mayor has been looking into high-tech “gun detection devices” that can red-flag individuals carrying firearms with a minimum of intrusion.
From February into April, Banks met with representatives of at least three firms, including Evolv Technology, which makes a metal detector-like device individuals can pass through without having to stop and remove objects.
In February, without naming the company, Adams said that “I’m going to be rolling out in a few days a device that we’re testing that allows us in a humane way, to identify guns and weapons.”
By then, Banks had already met three times with Evolv executives and their lobbyists — including scheduled visits to review implementation of the product at Lincoln Center in midtown Manhattan on Feb. 16 and at Jacobi Medical Center in The Bronx the day after — as part of a city pilot program.
Banks also scheduled meetings regarding two firms — ZeroEyes and Omnilert — that say they use artificial intelligence to scan security camera feeds to identify individuals who are potentially carrying weapons.
In February, he met with the CEO of Shotspotter, a gunshot detection device that the police department began using in 2015, and in April Banks met with the city’s Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser for a Shotspotter drone demonstration.
The firm has been touting a collaboration with an Israeli drone manufacturer to have the flying cameras respond to detected gunshots quickly to determine whether police are needed. Adams has publicly indicated he’s fully on board with the deployment of drones for crime-fighting purposes.
Among the other technologies discussed by Banks was Bus Patrol, a software that reads the license plates of cars that illegally pass by a school bus when it has its flashing-red stop sign activated.
And his schedule lists multiple discussions with fire department officials regarding the agency’s deployment of robot dogs — as well as a canceled April 1 “walk with robot dogs” with Adams at the Fulton Street Station in lower Manhattan.
Banks, who is named in city records as a potential lobbying target by Clearview AI — a controversial company that collects millions of images of people on the street that some law enforcement authorities have used to identify suspects via facial recognition — had a Feb. 4 in-person meeting regarding “Clearview.”
In the past, the NYPD has said they have no formal contract with the company but that their protocols do not prohibit the use of such software for law enforcement purposes.
One of Banks’ meetings included representatives of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), a nonprofit civil liberties group that has sued to force the NYPD to disclose the scope of its use of facial recognition in Times Square.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been having active efforts publicly and privately to persuade the Adams administration to abandon facial recognition technology, and pushing back against Shotspotter and highlighting the ways they get it wrong,” STOP executive director Albert Fox Cahn told THE CITY.
He declined to comment on Banks’ role.