A Writing Detective Retires to Focus on Books

The New York Police Department’s best-known writer in residence, Detective Edward Conlon, has turned in his shield.

A bagpiper stationed outside 1 Police Plaza played a few tunes as a freshly retired Mr. Conlon emerged from Police Headquarters last Friday. Mr. Conlon was accompanied by a handful of pals, familiar characters to readers of “Blue Blood,” his 2004 memoir of patrolling and making drug arrests in the Bronx.

As Mr. Conlon walked away, he said that his family had been working in law enforcement for more than a century, going back to great-grandfather.

“That’s enough for now,” said Mr. Conlon, who plans to write full time.

Mr. Conlon himself had 16 years on the job, which he said was long enough that he was in no danger of running out of writing material.

Mr. Conlon’s first novel, published earlier this year, is the story of two detectives and their arrest capers. The protagonist of the novel “Red on Red” is a detective named Nick Meehan, who makes no secret of being drawn to a good story.

“Nick preferred cases that went nowhere, or rather, he was drawn to mysteries that were not resolved with a name typed on an arrest report,” Mr. Conlon wrote.

Mr. Conlon, a writer before he joined the Police Department in 1995, said he did not initially anticipate writing about police work. “I didn’t come on for the stories,” Mr. Conlon said.

“I came on because I thought I might like the work,” he said. “But this caught me up and the two careers meshed really well.”

Early in his career, Mr. Conlon wrote about his experiences as a police officeer under the pseudonym Marcus Laffey for The New Yorker.

Storytelling is a longstanding tradition among officers.

“In any given barroom, squad room or cookout, there are going to be cops telling stories,” Mr. Conlon said. “Many that are better than mine. I just can write them in a certain way.”

For much of the last decade, Mr. Conlon was assigned to the detective squad in the 44th Precinct in the Bronx. More recently, Mr. Conlon spent about 20 months in Jordan as the Police Department’s liaison to law enforcement in that country. When he returned in the spring, he remained with the Intelligence Division, an assignment that he said did not suit him.

“There’s a lot of watching people, which to me is less interesting than catching people who have already done something bad,” he said.

He was reassigned to the 44th Precinct squad for the last few days before his retirement.

Of the perhaps 2,000 cases he handled, Mr. Conlon said, “Some, you can close with a five-minute phone call; others you carry for the rest of your days,” he said.

Asked how detective work was changing, Mr. Conlon noted that the case that can be closed with a five-minute phone call is becoming a thing of the past.

In recent years, Mr. Conlon said, bosses expect detectives to spend more and more time grappling with some of the city’s lesser mysteries.

“Take the smallest case you can think of: a woman gets her purse stolen at a bar,” Mr. Conlon said. “It used to be a short conversation; now they want to subpoena phone records, and a three-way phone conversation with the victim, a detective, and the credit card company. What was once 10 minutes spent on a case is now weeks.”

Young and Missing

From the start, it was Leiby Kletzky’s age — 8 — that jumped out at investigators.

Standing 4 feet tall and weighing 50 pounds, Leiby had joined a rare universe of people even before the police issued an R.M.A. — police jargon for “request for media attention” — in the case on July 12.

Leiby was a child, under 10 years old, missing in New York City.

The police got the call from his father at 8:34 p.m. on Monday, after Leiby had left a Brooklyn school where he was attending camp at 5:05 p.m. and embarked on a walk in Borough Park with plans to meet his mother. He never made it, and detectives on Wednesday morning arrested a man, Levi Aron, who they say killed Leiby and dismembered his body.

Between Jan. 1 and July 18 of this year, there have been seven children under 10 years old, including Leiby, whose disappearances have caused detectives to initiate a so-called “missing persons” investigation, the police said. But six of those cases are closed, the police said.

“The one missing, under 10, that is still open, is a 3-year-old child that was reported missing along with her mother,” said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman. The police have located the mother in Vermont, but until they personally document that the 3-year-old is with her, they will not close the case.

From the calendar year 2010, there is also one missing child: Patrick Alford.

In New York, “missing persons” cases have numbered 5,790 so far this year, according to police statistics. However, there are roughly 25,000 instances a year in which people call the police worried about the disappearance of someone, and the police respond and take some action. A much smaller number, however, actually become investigative cases, the police said.

They become cases based on the circumstances of the situation and the timing, when the police are notified and when the detectives initiate a case.

As for the actual cases, there were a total of 3,480 cases of missing people between the ages of 10 and 17, the police said. Of those, 2,077 have been closed, about 60 percent of them, the police said. According to Mr. Browne, the remaining open cases “are predominately runaways from private homes.”

Of those missing who are older than 17, there have been 2,303 so far this year, the police said. The police broke those down into the following categories.

  • Category G: those suspected of being victims of involuntary disappearance, who are usually 10 and above. There are 264 of these cases, with 169 of them, 64 percent, closed, the police said.
  • Special category: those who are learning disabled or who have special problems or medical needs. Of the 384 of these cases so far this year, 256 of them are closed, 67 percent, the police said.
  • Group foster home cases: those who are wards of the state, the police said, between the ages of 11 and 22. They usually vanish at 18 or 19 years of age. Of the 1,474 of those cases, 1,011 are closed, or 69 percent, the police said.
  • Missing elderly people, 65 or older: There are 181 of these and 117 are closed, or 65 percent, said the police.

For the police in New York, the clearance rate for all the “missing persons,” cases — regardless of age — is typically 90 percent at the end of each calendar year, Mr Browne said. “The remaining 10 percent is investigated into the next year,” he said.

Two Possible Candidates for Mayor Cross Paths

The next mayoral race is two years away, but one of those considering a bid for City Hall is Christine C. Quinn, who by having raised $1.3 million so far is leading any potential competitors.

She went to Police Headquarters recently and stood shoulder to shoulder with Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, another of the city’s leaders proponents talk of as a possible candidate in 2013. After a joint news conference, Ms. Quinn, the City Council speaker, was asked if, in a potential Quinn administration, she would keep Mr. Kelly on as police commissioner.

With Mr. Kelly within earshot, she said that whoever is the next New York City mayor would be lucky if Mr. Kelly would agree to stay on as police commissioner.

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Film Screening to Foster Ethnic Unity Stirs Trouble Instead

Rohan A. Narine is an earnest 26-year-old Guyanese-American and fledgling community organizer in Ozone Park, Queens, with ambitions to hold elected office one day — “if they need me to do something politically.”

Some months ago, he identified his first big cause: to help unify the young members of the Indian and Indo-Caribbean diaspora in southern Queens and develop a political voice for the population. He created a plan to hold a series of events at which young Sikhs and Hindus, the two dominant religions, could “get to know each other, network.”

For the inaugural event, he decided to screen “Sita Sings the Blues,” a 2008 animated feature film that tells a story derived from Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. The film has provoked outrage among some Hindus who believe its portrayal of the Ramayana and Hinduism is offensive. But Mr. Narine, who considers himself a devout Hindu, did not think much of this. He just liked the film.

“It raised some questions and forced me to go back into the scriptures and read them for myself,” he said this week. “I had a mild catharsis.”

In May, he set the screening date: June 26; booked the site, a Hindu temple in Ozone Park run by his uncle; pulled together a panel, including the director, Nina Paley, to discuss the film after the screening; and sent out invitations.

But then things started to fall apart. And Mr. Narine, who was born in London to Guyanese immigrants and moved to New York when he was 4, quickly learned a thing or two, not just about community organizing but also about the quicksand of cultural conflict.

First, his uncle got cold feet. “He said, ‘Good idea, wrong film,’ ” recalled Mr. Narine, who works as a real estate agent. The young organizer found another place, the Starlight Pavilion banquet hall in Ozone Park, rebooked the event for July 20 and sent out a new round of invitations — glossy, laminated cards that he mailed to hundreds of people.

Then on Sunday, Mr. Narine began receiving e-mails and phone calls from angry Hindus criticizing his choice of film. Dozens became scores; scores became hundreds. They were coming from across the country and around the world. By Wednesday, Mr. Narine had heard from more than a thousand opponents. Most were unkind, some were even threatening. Words unprintable on this Web site were abundant.

Mr. Narine was stunned. “I had no clue the backlash was this bad,” he said. “They thought I was working to bring down Hinduism.”

“Stop abusing Hindu gods,” one protester wrote. The e-mail carried the subject line “u dog.” Another e-mail said the film was “insulting the Divine Holy scriptures revered to us Hindus and hurting our feelings” and accused Ms. Paley of having a “pervert, sick, disgusting and barbaric imagination.”

The owner of the banquet hall, who had also been inundated with calls and e-mails, withdrew his support and permission to use the site. Mr. Narine’s sponsors stop returning his calls.

On Wednesday, Mr. Narine sent out an apologetic e-mail to his invitees. The film, he announced, would “now be shown in my home.” His parents had agreed to host the event on Thursday night in their living room in Ozone Park. He had also decided to waive the admission fee, though the panel discussion would still take place and food would still be served.

“My apologies for the third change of venue,” Mr. Narine said. “I look forward to seeing you.”

According to Mr. Narine, the lobbying effort was organized by a few Hindu groups, including the Forum for Hindu Awakening, a nonprofit organization based in Mount Laurel, N.J., which called for the protest on its Web site. “Let us inundate the organizers and Starlight Pavilion with letters or phone calls, registering our peaceful, but prompt protests,” the site said.

Mr. Narine has accepted the blame for inadvertently inviting the protest: He sent the invitations to people he had thought were community leaders and allies. They had forwarded the e-mails to the Hindu groups that waged the campaign against him.

He acknowledged that it has been a learning experience. “My uncle turning it down?” he said. “I can live with that. But the thousand e-mails I got?” His voice trailed off.

“I will make sure I don’t send any e-mails to — quote, unquote — community leaders anymore,” he concluded.

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If It Were Hearst Instead of Murdoch …

Rupert Murdoch, who became a force to reckon with in this city when he bought The New York Post 35 years ago, is routinely compared to a news media titan of the past, William Randolph Hearst. Not that “news media” was a term in vogue in Hearst’s heyday, the early decades of the 20th century. “Press baron” was more like it.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

But in important ways, the two men share the same journalistic DNA.

Like Hearst, Mr. Murdoch has used his newspapers to promote the politicians he favors and punish the ones he scorns. As was the case with Hearst’s papers, including The New York American and The New York Evening Journal, those owned by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation have a curtain between the news-gathering and opinion-writing departments that can be exceedingly diaphanous. Like Hearst, Mr. Murdoch seeks to shape the world around him through his news outlets.

And like Hearst, he has given the news business a thorough — some would say needed — shaking up, albeit at a price, in the form of accusations that he has “debauched journalism,” to borrow a charge that H. L. Mencken aimed at Hearst.

Hearst was “the first publisher to understand that the communications media were potentially more powerful than the parties and their politicians,” the historian David Nasaw has written. Much the same could be said of Mr. Murdoch.

Mr. Nasaw, a professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, wrote those words in his acclaimed biography of Hearst, “The Chief,” published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000.

Out of curiosity, we sought his thoughts on W.W.W.R.D. — What Would William Randolph Do? How might Hearst have handled the phone hacking and bribery scandals in Britain that have shaken News Corporation to its core and threatened the government of Prime Minister David Cameron?

Appearing on Tuesday before a parliamentary committee, Mr. Murdoch pronounced himself humbled by all that has happened, but he rejected any notion that he bore responsibility for misdeeds committed by newspapers under his dominion. The sins of his underlings could not be visited upon him, he said. The buck stopped elsewhere.

That would have been an alien concept to Hearst, Mr. Nasaw said.

“He made it clear that his newspapers were his newspapers, and he took responsibility for everything that was in them,” the historian said, adding that Hearst “would have been able to defend himself by saying he was the people’s tribune and that the people deserve to know what’s going on.”

Not that Hearst should be mistaken for “a saint or a particularly moral human being,” Mr. Nasaw said. Hardly. He and other press lords of his day “were perfectly capable and believed it their responsibility to use whatever means they could, including bribery and trickery, to get the news.”

But the gap in defining news is vast, he said. Mr. Murdoch’s minions in Britain gleaned tidbits about people like a girl who was murdered or the son of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a boy with cystic fibrosis. Hearst’s troops went after far bigger and more significant game, Mr. Nasaw said.

As an example, he cited how Hearst’s New York American paid two low-level Standard Oil employees to engage in a 1904 equivalent of phone hacking. They rummaged through desks and trash baskets to find letters that would show that the giant oil trust was bribing politicians.

If Hearst had ever been hauled before a committee, Mr. Nasaw said, “he would have said, ‘If the Senate policed its own members and reined in Standard Oil, I wouldn’t have had to do this. So the fault is yours, not mine.’ ”

“He would have taken absolute responsibility, and been proud to take responsibility,” Mr. Nasaw continued, “because he wasn’t reporting on Gordon Brown’s child or the life of a girl or whatever other scandals have erupted.”

“Nothing would have made Hearst happier than to be given a seat before a parliamentary commission so he could explain why he did what he did, and condemn the government for making it necessary for him to do it.”

For more local news from The Times, including an examination of New York’s growing Amish population in the wake of a tragic accident, the gruesome details of Leiby Kletzky’s killing and the evolution of long-term commercial renters in Grand Central, see the N.Y./Region section.

Here’s what City Room is reading in other papers and blogs this morning.

In a scene reminiscent of “The Great Gatsby,” former Schools Chancellor Cathleen P. Black crashed her sport utility vehicle into a tree in a driveway in the Hamptons after a party. Ms. Black and a passenger were unharmed. [New York Post]

Al Qaeda made fun of former Representative Anthony D. Weiner in the latest edition of its online magazine “Inspire.” [Daily News]

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned swimmers and kayakers to stay out of the Hudson River after a four-alarm fire closed a Harlem waste treatment plant, leading the city to pump raw sewage into the river. [Daily News] (Also see The New York Post.)

A sewer collapse in Bedford-Stuyvesant led to a pervasive stench in parts of Brooklyn.

Sixty agents from various government agencies raided an 11-story building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that had been divided into illegal residential lofts. [New York Post]

Councilman David Greenfield of Brooklyn has proposed “Leiby’s Law,” which would allow businesses to designate themselves as havens for lost children. [Daily News]

New York’s Democratic representatives were reported to have challenged the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, because of the debt-limit agreement’s proposed cuts to New York teaching hospitals. [New York Post]

Bankrate.com reports that New York has the highest mortgage closing costs of any state, a potential deterrent to would-be residents. [Gowanus Lounge]

Women from Astoria, Queens, are using a local social networking site to report and compare attacks from a bicycle-riding groper. [Daily News]

The American Association for Nude Recreation wants to have part of Coney Island designated as a nude beach. [New York Post]

The rigger who erected a crane that fell and killed seven people in 2008 has been stripped of his license. [Daily News] (Also see DNA Info and The Wall Street Journal.)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would be more open to considering medical marijuana for New York. [Daily News]

An insider’s look at the hallowed Mets dugout. [Wall Street Journal]

Shake Shack has filed an application with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to open a location in Grand Central Terminal. [DNA Info]

A terrifying map of registered sex offenders in Brooklyn. [mcbrooklyn]

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Young New Yorkers on Gay Marriage

On Sunday, New York will become the largest state to allow same-sex couples to wed, a move that was approved by the State Senate last month to tearful and raucous applause. For many couples who have been waiting for decades for their union to be legally recognized, it was a joyous victory in a hard-fought battle for the same rights afforded to straight couples.

Voices on Gay Marriage


New York’s youngest adults share their views.

But for some of New York’s younger residents, those 18 to 24, who were born long after the city’s first gay pride parade in 1970, and for whom marriage is a distant idea, does the legalization of same-sex marriage matter?

The New York Times interviewed dozens of people in recent days to get their perspective on the topic. With more teenagers coming out in high school, many said that homosexuality and bisexuality was more mainstream than it was a generation ago. Nevertheless, their gay peers, relatives and siblings still faced challenges.

“You’d be surprised at how many young people do not agree with a man-and-man relationship,” said Tara Mercado, 20, whose best friend is bisexual. Where she lives in the Bronx, she said, it’s not safe for homosexuals to express themselves.

“It’s not the American way,” she said. “We should be able to do whatever we want.”

While many straight, gay and bisexual individuals interviewed supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, some expressed doubts about the broader concept of marriage.

“The institution of marriage as a whole is just a legal state now. There’s no prestige for it,” said Harrison Troyano, 20, a classics major at Hunter College in Manhattan, who said his generation was “jaded.”

“People argue about the sanctity of marriage in a religious situation, but we live in a country in which destroys that in more ways than one,” he said referring to television shows such as VH1’s “Rock of Love,” in which busloads of woman compete for the chance to be in a relationship with an aging rock star.

But for those who consider themselves religious, Muslims and Roman Catholics in particular, the idea of same-sex marriage was still problematic.

“If you want to live together, live together, but getting married, that’s pushing it too far,” said Wilson Valencia, 19, who was raised Catholic in the Bronx.

Still, personal freedom and happiness trumped religious mores.

Although he said he wasn’t comfortable with same-sex marriage, mostly because of his Islamic faith, Mohammed Hosen, 19, of Kensington, Brooklyn, said same-sex couples should have the right to choose to marry if they want.

“As long as they’re happy, why should it matter to me?” he asked.

Growing up on Staten Island, 18-year old Edward Boljonis said he comes from a divided household, with a father who opposes same-sex marriage and a mother who supports it. His mother influenced his views, he said.

“We’re all equal, right? We’re all brought here saying we have freedom,” he said about the country’s founding principle. “Give it to us.”

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Don’t Be Blue: City Unveils Smurfs Week

City officials announced on Wednesday that next week would be Smurfs Week in New York City and that the Smurfs had been chosen as this year’s Get More NYC family ambassadors.

The Smurfs, a group of diminutive, blue creatures originally from Belgium, will be taking up the ambassadorial role previously held by Dora the Explorer and the characters from Sesame Street, said Kimberly Spell, spokeswoman for the city’s tourism marketing agency, NYC & Company. Ms. Spell declined to identify the other candidates for the honor or to explain the criteria used in the selection process. At press time, it could not be determined, for example, why Captain America was passed over.

George Fertitta, the chief executive of NYC & Company, said in a statement, “the week of July 25 will provide an unbelievable setting for families to experience Smurfs events around the city.”

Among the highlights is a planned Smurfs village containing three, 10-foot-tall Smurf houses near Columbus Circle, but when pressed, city officials revealed that none of the Smurfs — not Papa Smurf, Baby Smurf or Smurfette — will, in fact, be visiting for Smurfs Week.

Although there will also be Smurfs Week events in the Bronx and Brooklyn, there will be none in Staten Island or Queens, according to a map posted on NYC & Company’s Web site. That omission was deemed “distressing” by Dan Andrews, a spokesman for the Queens borough president, Helen Marshall.

When Ms. Marshall was notified, she lapsed into a bit of verse, saying: “Though only three apples high,/ the Smurfs have left us high and dry./ The animators drew,/ created a movie that almost seems true,/ but have left us all blue.”

The costs of Smurfs Week, which city officials would not divulge, are being covered by Sony Pictures Entertainment, which happens to have a movie premiering on Sunday that is called “The Smurfs.”

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M.T.A., Facing Shortfall, Finds Its Inner Suze Orman

As any budget-conscious New Yorker knows, it can be easier to cut back voluntarily on shoes, cocktails and rent than face a sobering conversation with a loved one or financial planner about thrifty living.

Perhaps that’s why the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which faces a $10 billion shortfall on its $26 billion capital budget for financing longer-term projects, proposed its own budget-cutting measures on Wednesday before it receiving the belt-tightening suggestions of the federal government and Albany.

In its newly released “Making Every Dollar Count” report, the transportation authority’s executives channeled their inner Suze Orman to cut costs. The authority did not suggest cutting back on construction on major projects like the Second Avenue Subway or East Side Access, which involves building a Long Island Rail Road terminal beneath Grand Central Terminal. But it did propose cutting 15 percent of its administrative staff, to save $150 million.

The agency also proposed saving $300 million by making more modest repairs of subway stations as problems arise, rather than waiting longer to do costlier fixes, as well as cutting back on bus service provided for stations that are being repaired. Another $300 million in cuts may come from buying fewer cars and using more fuel-efficient equipment. Most of all, the authority plans to take advantage of the slower construction boom by cutting its costs there by $800 million.

“We recognize that there’s no appetite for new taxes in New York today, and that makes it all the more important that we find ways to make these investments as efficiently and effectively as possible,” the M.T.A.’s chairman, Jay H. Walder, said in a statement.

The agency said it had already cut $2 billion from its $26 billion budget last year by doing things like consolidating the various transportation agencies’ repair shops so that, for example, a Long Island Rail Road train can now be fixed at a Metro-North repair shop. The agency also tried to buy more diesel-powered buses than hybrids.

The proposed cuts would be particularly harmful to the construction industry. Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association, called the capital budget “incredibly important and represents for our members thousands of jobs.”

“We are looking forward to working closely with the M.T.A. to find ways that maximize the M.T.A.’s ability to use its limited capital resources to cover as many projects as possible,” she added.

But it’s early days for a budget that has far to go. The authority still has another $8 billion to cut, and possibly even more if the federal government cuts transportation funding.

Hope Cohen, associate director of the Regional Plan Association’s Center for Urban Innovation, called the proposed cuts “a significant step,” but added, “This is not the final word.”

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