April 9, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
Michael J. Palladino, now serving his fourth term as president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, began his police career in 1979, in the northwest Bronx neighborhood he grew up in. He graduated from Fordham University a year later and was promoted to detective in 1987, after working in the Narcotics Division.
He also rose through the ranks of the DEA, which represents 5,500 New York Police Department detectives and 13,000 retirees. He became the 52nd Precinct detective squad’s union delegate in 1992, and was elected president in 2004.
With the union’s contract running through March 2019, its biggest concern now among what Palladino calls the “usual labor issues” is staffing, “particularly in the precinct detective squads.” Those squads are operating at about 60% of full staffing. “I never feel like we have enough,” he says. “That’s the frontline investigative arm of the NYPD.”
On the other hand, he says, technology has greatly aided detectives, from the proliferation of video cameras to the Statewide Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which enables them to compare fingerprints from a crime scene to those on record in a database, instead of having to find a suspect first and then see if their fingerprints match.
The union’s main challenge now, he says, is “trying to navigate our way through the constant scrutiny that police are under”—the results of the 2013 federal court decision holding the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies unconstitutional, the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s policies, and various City Council legislation. For example, detectives looking for someone with a warrant for their arrest can’t use verbal consent to search an apartment. The department now requires a signed consent form, he says, and “the CCRB is always challenging the consent.”
“Very often, I find people get confused between racial profiling and criminal profiling. There’s a difference,” Palladino says. Detectives, he explains, are mostly “reactive,” working off victims’ complaints and witnesses’ descriptions. “If we’re looking for a male white, we’re not going to be tossing male blacks.”
The NYPD’s pilot program requiring some police officers to wear body cameras is a spinoff of that court decision, but so far hasn’t included detectives. The DEA has had some discussions with the city about the 500-600 detectives assigned to uniform wearing them, Palladino says.
While he cautions that body-camera images, like video reviews in sports, often turn out to be inconclusive, he doesn’t believe “we can resist the technology any more.” The best thing the union can do now, he says, is “embrace the technology” and negotiate terms and conditions for its use that are “in the best interest of our people.”