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Safir no-show at convention

August 29, 1997

Breaking department precedent, Police Commissioner Howard Safir was a no-show at the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's annual convention yesterday.

His surrogate, First Deputy Commissioner Pat Kelleher, had to turn back, supposedly when his helicopter encountered stormy weather over Rockland County.

With negotiatons over pay raises foundering; with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani not invited for the second straight year; with its top lawyers under indictment for alleged kickback scheme; and most recently, with the shadow of the 70th Precinct brutality scandal hovering, the PBA's 103rd annual convention, held at Kutsher's Country Club in upstate Monticello, concluded on a decidedly subdued note.

In speeches and private conversations among the 1,000 union members and law-enforcement officials, the 70th Precinct scandal - in which two cops allegedly shoved the handle of a toilet plunger up the rectum of a Haitian immigrant in the precinct's bathroom - dominated.

Former Congressman and former PBA vice president Mario Biaggi sounded the convention's doleful note when in a speech he referred to "this untoward event."

"This is a dismal period," he said.

His theme was echoed by PBA president Lou Matarazzo, who told the audience, "occasionally, we have a 70th Precinct. Certainly we don't endorse what happened or what the newspapers say happened . . . sometimes we go astray, but one or two is a very small number."

Referring to newspaper accounts of the incident and to newspaper reporters, he said, "remember how safe New York City is now and remember all those killed in the line of duty before you write your stories about a police department riddled with corruption."

Printable versionQueens District Attorney Richard Brown said although there was no justification for the 70th Precinct incident, "we can't allow that to overshadow the many good things you have accomplished in the past few years."

Like Matarazzo, he referred to the precipitous drop in crime, where homicides have dropped to levels not seen in 30 years, and said, "it is very clear that the lion's share of the credit belongs to the New York City police officers."

Referring to the 70th Precinct scandal, he said, "that which occurred, that which apparently occurred, is an aberration. It casts a shadow over all the good things accomplished by you."

In private conversations, many law-enforcement officials shook their heads in puzzlement and amazement over the 70th Precinct incident. "We've never had anything like this before," said a retired chief. "Even the Rodney King incident pales beside it."

At least with Rodney King, you could argue that it occurred in the heat of the moment. What makes the 70th Precinct case so vicious is that it was premeditated."

Still, as Biaggi, who served a prison term after he was convicted of taking payoffs while in Congress, put it, "the department will survive; I only caution you not to lose faith, to walk with your head held high. This too will pass."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.