NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site

Safir faces his first test

April 15, 1996

Sworn in today as police commissioner, Howard Safir may soon face his first test over who runs the NYPD: he or Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The issue is the aborted transfer of Staten Island's top police commander Kevin Farrell, ordered by outgoing commissioner William Bratton, canceled by Giuliani.

Staten Island District Attorney William L. Murphy wants Farrell out of the borough because of what Murphy alleges were Farrell's "inappropriate actions" during Murphy's re-election campaign last year against veteran Staten Island politician Guy Molinari that Murphy won in a landslide.

Murphy cites a litany of complaints: that while in uniform, Farrell made disparaging remarks about Murphy's office and that Farrell debriefed a drug-dealer with Molinari, an apparent violation of police procedure.

Law enforcement sources say Farrell's daughter contributed $950 to Molinari's campaign and Molinari acknowleges he "may have written a letter" last year to Attorney General Dennis Vacco, leading to the rehiring of Farrell's son, who'd been dismissed by Vacco for what Vacco's spokesman termed "budgetary reasons." Molinari, the S.I. borough president and a key Vacco backer, had secured Vacco's victory as attorney general over his opponent Karen Burstein by making an issue of her homosexuality.

Molinari is also an ally of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, currently brokering a rapprochment between the mayor and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Police sources say that Bratton, at Murphy's urging, had ordered Farrell's transfer last month, as a year ago he'd transferred Queens Detective Chief Ray Abruzzi, who'd feuded with Queens DA Richard Brown. As Bratton had transferred the well-regarded Abruzzi to head the larger command of Brooklyn detectives, so had he scheduled Farrell to head the larger command of Brooklyn Borough South.

"When a guy can't work with a DA, you have to find a solution," explained a top Bratton aide. "The idea here is that Kevin did nothing wrong but he did create a problem. By placing him in a bigger borough, as Brooklyn South commander, you solve two problems. You let the world know this is not a hit on him and you bring about a state of peace in police relations in Staten Island."

Farrell's transfer was folded into a larger police shakeup involving Bratton's well-publicized drug-fighting initiative in Brooklyn. While some transfers were accepted by city hall, as Bratton had sought, others, including Farrell's, were blocked by the mayor because, an aide said, they were "not fully thought out."

Printable versionLast week, Murphy charged that Giuliani had blocked Farrell's transfer "because he didn't want to offend Molinari. A high-placed police source told me the move had been planned. I am confident enough of my sources so that I'll stick my head out to say that's what he said. That was the last thing reported to me about Farrell." Molinari has denied interceding for Farrell. Giuliani's press secretary Colleen Roche didn't return phone calls.

Meanwhile, the department's Internal Affairs Bureau began an investigation into Murphy's allegations against Farrell and cleared him of all of them. Murphy, however, calls IAB's investigation "half-assed," and says he was never formally interviewed although he had first-hand knowlege of a Molinari speech in which Molinari allegedly stated he and Farrell had debriefed the drug dealer together.

"If it happened, it was inappropriate," Murphy says. "If it didn't, Molinari is a liar."

Meanwhile, tensions between Farrell and Murphy are waxing. Last month, Murphy says Farrell's borough command forced detectives from his elite DA's squad to return to the borough to catch cases with regular detectives after midnight. "Clearly, this is an incursion into my squad," says Murphy. "It's indicative of the moves on the part of the borough command to change the relationshp between this office and the NYPD."

Of Farrell, Murphy says: "The man has obviously lost confidence in the work of this office. Under those circumstances, given his unique place in command structure - (The Staten Island borough commander not only supervises all uniformed officers but all detectives.) - it is uncomfortable, if not impossible, to work with him."

No Mailer but Knobler. Rejected by two or three better known names, "the most important law enforcement official of the decade and perhaps the 20th Century," as his lawyer refers to Bill Bratton, has found ghostwriter Peter Knobler to pen his $350,000 bio. Since Knobler is not quite Norman Mailer, he'll probably get the standard ghostwriting fee of one-third the book's advance.

« Back to top

Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.