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From Top Cop to the Corporate Boardroom: Ex-Police Chiefs Spin Through Revolving Doors Into the Private Sector

(Photo: Scott Davidson / Flickr)

Before 9/11 it was uncommon for retired police officers to seek lucrative employment in the private sector. However, in today’s world of heightened security, top Pentagon and Treasury officials aren’t the only ones gliding out the revolving door into lucrative jobs with private defense companies: Some law enforcement officers are snagging a piece (albeit smaller) of the military-industrial pie.

Police budgets have grown immensely in recent years. Local law enforcement agencies currently make up a multibillion-dollar market for weapons, communications and surveillance systems and specialized technical services. Federal funds channeled through the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice have inflated local police budgets greatly. Police chiefs in the largest cities command thousands of officers and an increasingly militarized array of weapons and surveillance systems, and they have become prominent public figures advocating the growth of the local security state. To win a share of this ballooning police spending controlled by local law enforcement agencies, corporate contractors have enticed prominent ex-police officials to work for them, often for six-figure salaries and lucrative stock awards. Former top cops promise to deliver lucrative federal, state and local police contracts for businesses by serving as high-powered lobbyists and gatekeepers to powerful officials.

Although some cities have instituted conflict-of-interest rules to prevent corruption and cronyism, virtually no police department in the nation bans its former officers from joining private-sector companies and exploiting their contacts within government. The most robust conflict-of-interest rules in New York and Los Angeles haven’t prevented top NYPD and LAPD commanders from being hired by corporations eager to sell police gear and surveillance equipment.

Craig Holman of Public Citizen calls this “classic revolving-door abuse.” Holman, formerly a policy analyst with the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law who now drafts federal legislation to address government corruption, says revolving-door structures like this pose serious problems.

“First, it raises legitimate questions about whether the police chiefs made official decisions and awarded government contracts based on the prospects of future lucrative private-sector employment for themselves as opposed to the public’s interest,” Holman said. “Second, when the police chiefs assume private-sector employment, they tend to have privileged and personal access to their network of friends still in government service that is not available to others.”

Kade Crockford runs the ACLU Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project and closely tracks US police technologies and budgets. “What’s troubling about the past decade is that for a long time we’ve had this revolving-door problem called the military-industrial complex,” Crockford said. “But now, the military-industrial complex has morphed into a military-industrial-surveillance complex, and it has connected all the way down to the local police through federal funding and new surveillance technologies.”

Holman added: “Businesses will pay top dollar for former government officials to serve as their lobbyists. Essentially, the businesses are buying the privileged access given to former officials.”

Bill Bratton’s Record Number of Spins Through the Revolving Door

Nowhere is the police budget bigger than in New York, and since the late 1990s, New York City’s police have led cities across the nation in militarizing local cops and expanding the surveillance state’s reach. William J. Bratton, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pick for New York’s police commissioner, is more responsible than anyone for expanding the police state in New York and the rest of the country. Bratton is responsible as a cop and as a highly paid private-sector consultant, board member and executive of corporate contractors. De Blasio’s selection of William Bratton to run the NYPD yet again makes this Bratton’s second term as New York’s police commissioner and his fourth spin through the revolving door between public office and private industry. Since the mid-1990s, Bratton has bounced back and forth between police departments and their corporate contractors.

Bratton was a career cop who joined the Boston Police in 1970 and worked his way up through the ranks. By 1986, he was Boston’s police chief. After a brief stint in charge of the New York Transit Police from 1990 to 1992, he was appointed New York’s police commissioner in 1994. The role gave Bratton a national platform to promote zero tolerance policing policies and to overhaul the NYPD with a corporate-like command and control structure guided by statistical analysis and other methods drawn directly from the business world. Reported rates of crime plummeted in New York City while Bratton was behind the desk at 1 Police Plaza. In fact, crime rates already had been declining for several years. As police commissioner, Bratton readily took credit, but Mayor Rudolph Guiliani forced him out after only two years on the job. Guiliani apparently saw Bratton as a potential competitor for the mayor’s office and a subordinate who was casting too long a shadow.

That sudden dismissal began Bratton’s other career as a private security consultant and board member of police-industrial contractors. In 2000, Bratton incorporated The Bratton Group LLC to contract with governments and corporations over security matters. In little time, Bratton was recruited by Michael Cherkasky, a longtime associate and former Manhattan assistant district attorney, to join a team assembled by Kroll Government Services to monitor the LAPD. The department was under a federal court order demanding reforms to address its systemic violation of human rights. Cherkasky’s team, including Bratton, was paid $11 million to oversee the LAPD for five years. Bratton, however, left the Kroll monitoring team within the first year, accepting the post of chief of the LAPD.

Back in public office, Bratton was overseeing the nation’s second-largest police force with 10,000 sworn officers and a budget of $840 million in 2002. His second year in charge of LAPD, Bratton approved more than $1 million of spending on ammunition and tear gas alone. The department spent an additional $8 million on patrol vehicles, including a quarter-million-dollar allocation to outfit it with communications gear, including radio and computer systems manufactured by a company he would one day work for in the private sector – Motorola. In 2009, Bratton’s last year as LAPD’s chief, the agency’s budget had grown to $1.32 billion; Los Angeles’s cops are now one of the largest police forces in world – larger than some nations’ militaries – and one of the biggest consumers of weapons and surveillance technologies.

One of LAPD’s biggest vendors is Motorola Solutions Inc. The Illinois-based technology giant inked $53 million of contracts with Los Angeles during Bratton’s term as chief; $16 million of these contracts were directly with the LAPD. For example, in 2006, Motorola installed a video surveillance system in LA’s Jordan Downs public housing community. The company also outfitted a police cruiser with video surveillance gear, an automated license plate reader and the ability to conduct facial scanning and biometric recognition of pedestrians, according to a company press release.

“We’re really excited about the technology partnership with Motorola,” Bratton said shortly after the cameras and wireless radios were installed around the all-black apartment complex in one of the poorest sections of LA.

“This is the latest in camera systems that will allow us to monitor activity in large parts of the public spaces here,” Bratton said. “The 21st century is finally arriving here in Los Angeles, and we’re very happy about our partnership with Motorola.”

In 2011, Bratton, two years retired from the LAPD, formed a new kind of partnership with Motorola Solutions when he joined the company’s board of directors. Motorola Solutions cited his long law enforcement career and connections and stature among police and federal officials as qualifications.

Motorola Solutions paid Bratton $100,000 cash and $140,028 in stock awards in 2013. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bratton owns more than 10,000 shares in the company, worth more than $600,000.

Motorola Solutions’ total contracts with Bratton’s other former employer, New York City, accounted for $34 million in company revenue in the past two years, according to the New York City comptroller’s public spending database, and Motorola employs several lobbyists who routinely meet with the city staff in the mayor’s office, NYPD and other agencies.

A Motorola Solutions spokesperson declined to comment on Bratton’s role on the company’s board. And a spokesperson for Bratton’s startup company Bratton Technologies – a LinkedIn-style social network tool for cops – said the former police chief is unavailable to comment on his public- and private-sector roles.

Another company using Bratton’s brand to improve its own is Shotspotter, a California maker of gunshot detection systems used in over 70 US cities. Bratton joined Shotspotter’s board of directors in May 2013. Shotspotter did not respond to a request for information about Bratton’s role or his compensation.

Although Shotspotter has no contracts with the NYPD or LAPD, records show that Bratton, while he was chief of the LAPD, recommended to the city’s police commission that Los Angeles purchase Shotspotter’s system and services. On September 26, 2008 Bratton delivered a report to the police commission.”Should funding become available,” Bratton’s report concluded, “the Department would benefit from the use of this technology as part of an overall comprehensive approach to reducing crime in the City of Los Angeles.”

Also, New York City records show that Shotspotter hired lobbyists to approach the NYPD and mayor’s office in 2009 and 2010, but the company has yet to ink any deal with the city. Shotspotter has been paid $2.4 million by the military and Justice Department. (The company is developing gunshot detections systems for the military that would be used in combat zones.)

Bratton was also part of an elite consulting team hired last year by the city of Oakland, California, to write a crime-fighting plan. The final report, casually referred to by Oakland’s City Council and mayor as the “Bratton Report,” recommended that the city “significantly increase the camera and monitoring capabilities of OPD in commercial areas throughout the city.” The report concluded that this vastly expanded network of spy cameras “would be monitored and recorded at the Domain Awareness Center,” a citywide surveillance system currently under construction. Motorola supplies much of the hardware for Oakland’s existing police surveillance systems and has bid on the final $2 million contract to complete Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center.

“Bratton’s seamless shifting between police agencies and private intelligence firms, or the board of Motorola, raises significant questions,” Crockford said. “It’s a problem in that police are supposed to serve the public interest. But corporations have other interests, competing interests, and other motives.”

In a Los Angeles Times article in 2009, years before Bratton was hired by Motorola Solutions, former California Assembly member Tom Hayden said “there were obvious red flags” back when Bratton was hired straight out of Kroll Inc. to run the LAPD. “The man monitoring the city’s compliance with a federal decree was the friend and former employer of the man he was supposed to be monitoring. Was this really the sort of independent, conflict-free relationship required of a monitor?” Hayden called for an independent inquiry. None was ever undertaken.

The November Group

Bratton’s private-sector adventures are mirrored by another former New York City police commissioner, Howard Safir. For more than a decade, Safir has worked as a lobbyist for multiple corporations that have done millions of dollars of business with his former government employers.

In 2000, Howard Safir, having just exited the NYPD, was hired by ChoicePoint, a Georgia-based private intelligence service that worked closely with corporate clients and governments. As Greg Smith of the New York Daily News has reported, Safir convinced ChoicePoint in 2001 to purchase Bode Technology, a private crime laboratory that focused on testing DNA evidence. At ChoicePoint, Safir oversaw Bode Technology as it gained valuable government contracts. In 2007, the GlobalOptions Group, another private investigations firm Safir was also working for, purchased Bode Technology from ChoicePoint. Safir subsequently became the CEO of Bode Technology.

Just eight years earlier, Safir, while chief of the NYPD, was busy setting aside millions in city funds for Bode Technology. As Greg Smith reported in 2007 for the Daily News: “In 1999 and into 2000, when he was still police commissioner, Safir was involved in approving the original NYPD contract with Bode and two other companies to analyze DNA from a backlog of 12,000 rape-evidence kits kept in an NYPD warehouse.”

Bode’s most recent contracts with New York were for “technical DNA workshops” conducted in 2012 and 2013. City medical examiner staff members participated at a cost of $20,000. Bode Technology has numerous other contracts with various police departments.

GlobalOptions Group paid Safir a salary of $300,000 as well as an undisclosed bonus each year of his employment there, from 2007 to 2009. Safir’s lucrative pay package was partly thanks to the acquisition of valuable businesses like Bode Technology, a deal he orchestrated. Over the years Safir also acquired a big ownership stake in the GlobalOptions Group. The company’s October 2007 prospectus filed with the SEC showed that Safir owned 260,943 shares, or 5.1 percent of GlobalOptions Group’s stock.

Safir left GlobalOptions on a sour note because of what the company’s other executives characterized as a conflict of interest. GlobalOptions Group accused Safir and son Adam of having other business interests that ran opposite to their company’s. The Safirs had organized National Security Solutions Inc., a Delaware corporation that management of the GlobalOptions Group described in a securities filing as “a newly organized blank check company” organized to compete with GlobalOptions.

In 2010, Howard and Adam Safir quit GlobalOptions. They joined SolutionPoint, which has since drummed up considerable business with police agencies and the federal government. SolutionPoint even purchased Bode Technology, putting Safir once again in charge of the for-profit crime lab he once steered NYPD contracts to. Since 2010, Bode Technology has won $9.7 million of federal contracts, mostly with the FBI.

Bode Technology is just one of Howard Safir’s many business ventures that intertwine with police agencies and federal law enforcement. Safir is also a director of Verint Systems and Implant Sciences Corporation. Safir also has hired himself out as a super-lobbyist to smaller corporations seeking entrance to the lucrative homeland security market.

In July 2005, a little-known Florida corporation called BlastGard International elected Safir to its board of directors. An agreement between BlastGard and The November Group Ltd., a private corporation owned and controlled by Safir, spelled out why the former police chief was being retained. Safir was to, “serve as an advisor to render strategic and consulting services to [BlastGard].” According to the agreement, these strategic services included developing a “market penetration strategy” to sell BlastGard’s explosives detection and blast mitigation products to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the FBI and even the police and fire departments Safir once led. Safir was granted 100,000 shares of BlastGard’s stock as compensation. As further incentive to lobby his former colleagues in New York and at the Department of Justice, where he began his career working at the Drug Enforcement Administration and US Marshals Service, BlastGard agreed to pay the November Group 6 percent of all net revenue obtained from new clients recruited by Safir.

Verint Systems contracts with government agencies and private corporations for security and surveillance services. Safir joined the board of Verint in 2002. And in a report to shareholders, the company’s managers cited Safir’s “extensive law enforcement background and his financial and business expertise,” as qualifications and skills to serve as a director.

More than one-quarter of Verint Systems’ total revenue is derived from its contracts with law enforcement agencies to facilitate phone, computer and other electronic surveillance. According to the company’s 2013 annual report:

“In our Communications Intelligence segment, we are a leading provider of communications intelligence solutions and a developer of cyber security solutions that help law enforcement, national security, intelligence, and civilian government agencies effectively detect, investigate, and neutralize criminal and terrorist threats, and detect and thwart cyber-attacks. Our solutions are designed to handle massive amounts of unstructured and structured information from different sources, quickly make sense of complex scenarios, and generate evidence and intelligence.”

Verint Systems’ federal contracts include $1.8 million of work for the Drug Enforcement Administration, mostly sales of electronic communications interception equipment and software. Verint has sold millions of dollars of in surveillance gear to the Defense, Homeland Security and Treasury departments also.

In 2013 Verint Systems paid Safir $181,000 in cash and bonuses and granted him stock worth $153,000, for a total compensation of $334,000. Verint Systems did not respond to requests for further information.

Implant Sciences sells drug and explosive detection systems to law enforcement in the United States and abroad. In 2009, the company appointed Safir to its board. Similar to his earlier dealings with BlastGard, Safir’s agreement with Implant Sciences was to drum up business for the company among federal and local police and military agencies. Implant Sciences granted 303,399 shares of its stock to the November Group, the private company controlled by Safir. In a securities filing, Implant Sciences straightforwardly described the November Group as “a company that provides strategic advisory and customer acquisition services to companies in the security, law enforcement, intelligence and defense industries.”

Since 2001, Implant Sciences has sold more than $12 million of goods to the federal government. In October, Implant Sciences participated in a Department of Commerce “cyber security and critical infrastructure protection trade mission” to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait seeking to expand its customer base among oil companies and military bases in the region.

Holman, who reviewed Safir and Bratton’s various business ventures for this report, said that it’s likely these former cops are making much more in the private sector than they did as career police leaders. “Since the revolving door is so profitable both to the former police chiefs and to the businesses that hire them, the price tag associated with the revolving door has spiraled upward,” Holman said. “These former police chiefs clearly are being paid much, much more than they were as government officials.”

Holman added, “The high price tag also means that only the wealthiest business interests can afford purchasing this type of special access.”

An Emerging Pattern

Like Bratton and Safir, Louis Anemone came to prominence in the NYPD. Anemone was promoted by Bratton to chief of patrol, where he became a driving force in the department’s CompStat program, a statistics-driven management strategy widely emulated by other departments. Anemone was known as a hard-line cop who favored violent suppression of crime and civil unrest.

In 1999, under a cloud of criticism related to high-profile cases of police brutality, Anemone resigned from the NYPD. Anemone immediately incorporated a for-profit advisory firm, Anemone Consulting Inc., and sought to drum up business in the private sector by helping homeland security contractors sell their weapons and gadgets. It’s not clear what corporations Anemone worked for or what government contracts he might have obtained during this period. But within little time, he was back in public office as deputy director of the New York State Office of Public Security then as director of security for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In May 2003, Anemone switched back into the private sector, this time working with Casale Associates LLC, a security consulting firm set up by yet another ex-NYPD officer, Nicholas Casale.

In 2005, a small company with its sights on the burgeoning homeland security market asked Anemone to join its advisory board. ICOP Digital Inc., a Kansas-based maker of mobile video surveillance systems mounted in patrol cruisers, had been losing money for years because it lacked major contracts with clients like the NYPD and Border Patrol. As compensation – and enticement to drum up maximum business for ICOP – Anemone was issued warrants for 25,000 shares in the company, exercisable at $7.50 per share, according to an SEC filing. Under the deal, if Anemone’s reputation and contacts created enough business for the company, its stock value would rise proportionately, making his 25,000 warrants very profitable.

ICOP’s last annual report showed $5.4 million in losses in 2009, and it’s unclear if Anemone every made money for or from the company.

This may also have been the case for BlastGard, which was incorporated solely to capitalize on the growing market for explosives detection and blast mitigation services and supplies that grew in the aftermath of 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Not long after BlastGard recruited Safir to its board, the company issued a press release in 2006 indicating Safir was leaving the company, “due to demands of his numerous business and personal commitments.” Safir’s financial deal with BlastGard wasn’t terminated. But in 2006 and 2007, BlastGard reported losses of $2.4 and $3.8 million, respectively. Although BlastGard won $264,000 in federal contracts with the military and Department of Homeland Security, its sales have continuously lagged its costs.

BlastGard did not respond to requests for comment about the company’s financials or Safir and the November Group’s role in marketing for the company.

Former New York top cops are hardly alone in their attempts to cash in on the post 9-11 homeland security boom. Beverly Hills Police Department Chief David Snowden is a director of T3 Motion, a Costa Mesa, California, company that designs and builds three-wheeled electric chariots. Earlier in his career, Snowden was chief of the Costa Mesa Police Department.

During a recent board election, shareholders of T3 Motion were told by the company’s executives that, “Mr. Snowden is suited to serve as a director of T3 Motion due to his deep experience in and understanding of police departments and municipalities, as well as his contacts within the law enforcement industry.”

T3 Motion’s largest customers are law enforcement agencies. The company claims to have sold electric vehicles to the police departments of Chicago, New York City, Seattle and other major cities. Two recent sales netted the Singapore Police and Protection & Tourist Services and a South African private security company as customers.

But Snowden’s contacts in the law enforcement world may not be enough. T3 Motion has reported negative earnings for many years, and during summer 2013, the company was delisted from the from the NYSE MKT stock exchange because of its failing financial performance.

In another attempt to leverage a top cop’s reputation to bolster sales, Brekford Corporation, a Maryland company that installs communications and surveillance gear in police vehicles, recruited Douglas Deleaver to its board of directors in 2007. Deleaver spent 36 years in law enforcement, starting with the Maryland State Police. He rose to the rank of chief of police of the Maryland Transit Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation before retiring in 2006.

Brekford has granted Maryland’s former top transportation cop 40,000 shares in the company to date and paid Deleaver $9,500 last year for attending board meetings.

Business with the federal government took off for Brekford after Deleaver’s arrival. Since 2008 Brekford has sold more than $2 million of goods and services to federal agencies, mostly installations of radios and emergency lights on vehicles owned by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Homeland Security and the military. In Brekford’s home state, where Deleaver is well-known among local and state officials, the company has sold gear to police departments in St. Mary’s County, the city and county of Baltimore, Howard County and other municipalities, according to Brekford’s web site. Brekford Corporation did not respond to a request for comment.

Crockford says this emerging pattern of revolving-door movement between law enforcement agencies and corporate contractors is dangerous not only to budgets but also to the supposed mission of law enforcement: to serve the public good. “Officials moving from roles as public servants into extremely well-paid positions in the private sector is really damaging both to democracy and the integrity of the public institutions they once served. I don’t know that taxpayers’ interest[s] are being served by this.”

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