More than two years after the City Council passed a law requiring the NYPD to conduct an independent review of the work of its Equal Employment Opportunity Division under a leader later fired for offensive comments, the police department has yet to hire a vendor to begin the work, THE CITY has learned.
The review was mandated after the Council’s Oversight and Investigations Committee found in November 2020 that the then-director of the EEO division, Deputy Inspector James Kobel, appeared to be behind dozens of inflammatory postings to an online message board.
The posts, which a Council report described as “racist, misogynistic, antisemitic, and homophobic,” prompted concerns about Kobel’s work helming a division designed to prevent and investigate harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
The NYPD terminated Kobel in February 2021 after its Internal Affairs Bureau found multiple pieces of evidence tying Kobel to the “Clouseau” account — named after the inept Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies — that posted the comments.
Two months later, the Council passed the look-back legislation. Among other directives, it required the police department to hire an external consultant to review the EEO’s work under Kobel from October 2017 to October 2020.
Asked last week about the status of that effort, an NYPD spokesperson who did not provide their name said a consultant still hasn’t been hired to conduct the review.
“The NYPD is currently negotiating a contract with a vendor to provide these services,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “Once negotiations are completed, the contract will be executed and services will commence.”
The spokesperson didn’t respond to a follow-up question seeking an explanation for the delay.
Last year, NYPD Captain Sharon Balli won an $800,000 settlement from the city after filing a lawsuit complaining that Kobel had buried her charge of discrimination and sexism at her Manhattan precinct.
Balli alleged that Kobel never formally interviewed her following her complaint, even as her colleagues retaliated against her for filing it.
Her attorney, John Scola, told THE CITY that the NYPD’s delay in reviewing Kobel’s cases isn’t surprising.
“I think it’s telling that they haven’t hired a consultant and they haven’t really looked under the hood to see how insidious Kobel’s racism was to that office,” said Scola, who has two lawsuits pending against Kobel filed by Muslim officers.
One of those suits was filed by an EEO staffer who claims he was routinely denied promotions, and the other alleges that Kobel closed out a complaint of religious discrimination based on the false claim that the complainant couldn’t be reached.
That probe was closed by Kobel even after the NYPD was aware of the Council’s findings against him, said Scola.
Asked for comment on the NYPD’s response to the 2021 legislation, City Council spokesperson Rendy Desamours said, “This is yet another example of the Police Department avoiding accountability, this time to its own employees, by delaying the review of its Equal Employment Opportunity Division’s investigations under a former commanding officer who made racist, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic comments online.”
Fired After Skipping Trial
The Council’s 2020 probe found that “Clouseau” posted more than 500 times between July 2019 and September 2020 to a “vitriolic” online policing chat board known as Law Enforcement Rant.
Among the posts were references to former President Barack Obama as a “Muslim savage” and to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s biracial son as “brillohead,” along with other posts that were laced with expletives.
The Council’s report noted that much of the biographical information posted by Clouseau matched publicly available information about Kobel.
The NYPD secured even more substantial links between Clouseau and Kobel, including finding the Clouseau account’s avatar image on Kobel’s personal cell phone.
The department also found an email to Kobel’s AOL account confirming he was registered and approved to use the Rant forum under the username Clouseau, as well as IP addresses for many of the posts tied to Kobel’s home address.
Despite the strength of the department’s evidence against him, Kobel repeatedly denied to investigators that he was behind the posts — which led to additional disciplinary charges against him for making false statements.
Kobel didn’t show up at his administrative trial, where the judge noted that Kobel’s position as the head of the EEO division made his alleged conduct even more troubling.
“The misconduct here, writing posts that are demeaning, belittling, and insulting to individuals, as well as to whole communities, demonstrated a willful and wanton disregard of Department values,” wrote assistant deputy commissioner of trials Jeff Adler. “Such misconduct would be unacceptable from any MOS [member of service]. Here, where the source of the abhorrent posts was the commanding officer of EEOD, this shocking rhetoric is even more reprehensible.”
Former NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea terminated Kobel on Feb. 3, 2021.
Kobel’s attorney, Louis La Pietra, did not respond to a voicemail message left by THE CITY.
Missing: Review and Recommendations
While the City Council legislation didn’t lay out a deadline for the police department to complete its review of Kobel’s division, it did specify what should happen once that review is completed.
The law gives the external consultant 30 days to publicly post a summary of their findings and to make any recommendations for how to remedy any deficiencies found in the EEO’s work — including a list of cases that might need to be reinvestigated.
The police commissioner would then have 120 days to publicly post a description of any actions taken or to be taken by the department in response to the report.
As THE CITY reported last week, another component of the Council’s April 2021 legislation has hit bumps in the road.
The law moved jurisdiction over investigations of complaints by civilians of biased policing or racial profiling by NYPD officers away from the police department and to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).
CCRB Interim Chair Arva Rice said in remarks at last week’s board meeting that the agency’s budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, is insufficient to staff the unit launched to probe such cases — which could force the board to refer complaints back to the NYPD for investigation.
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which oversees the CCRB, is slated to hold a hearing Thursday on the agency’s upcoming budget.