Believability missing, too
January 19, 1998
In his weekly news conferences at One Police Plaza, Police Commissioner Howard Safir has demonstrated a remarkable ability to say the most preposterous things with a straight face. Some might even call them lies.
Equally remarkable is the loyalty of First Deputy Patrick Kelleher, who sits stoically beside Safir, nodding his head as the commissioner speaks.
Last week, Safir began his news conference by discussing Geoffrey Chazen, the missing 39-year-old doctor who left a suicide note. As suicide doesn't necesssarily entail foul play, normal procedure provides only for a detective from the Missing Persons Bureau to issue an "informational" to morgues of the missing person's description.
For Chazen, Safir dispatched 50 police officers, police dogs and a helicopter to search Central Park. Detectives also searched Suffolk County beaches near his Long Island home, with Safir's bodyguards calling them for updates.
Safir denied the police response bore a relation to Chazen's being an in-law of the celebrity lawyer Raoul Felder, who recently comped Safir and his wife for a few thousand dollars in legal fees. After this column pointed out that accepting such a freebie appeared to violate the Patrol Guide, the Safirs paid Felder a cut rate.
Safir acknowleged he was "personally involved" in the Chazen case but insisted the disappearance of any citizen in Central Park would merit a similar police response.
He explained that his bodyguards called for updates because someone, whom Safir refused to name, "personally called me and asked me for help." Safir said, "Anybody who personally called me and asked me for help in a life-threatening situation would get the same response."
Two weeks ago, after Safir's revelatory announcement that subway crime had been under-reported for decades, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign called Safir, attempting to send him a fax. Russianoff says Safir's aides refused to divulge the fax number, saying it was "classified."
Safir added that sending detectives to Long Island to search for Chazen also was routine, although he was unable to cite a similar case.
Well, here's one. In 1991, Police Commissioner Lee Brown sent two detectives, who masqueraded as a lawyer and an arson investigator, to Amagansett on Long Island's East End to investigate a fire at the home of the late Reginald Lewis, the chairman of Beatrice Foods. Lewis, a personal friend of then-Mayor David Dinkins, had called Dinkins, seeking his assistance.
"Not only would it be inappropriate to pay this 36-year-old man without exacting substantial penalty for his illegal behavior, but it would also send the wrong message to other members of the department," Koshetz wrote.
Three days later, Koshetz' decision was overturned. Creditor paid a $50,000 fine, a sum beyond the means of most cops, and retired with his pension. Police brass say the case is unprecedented.
On Dec. 6, Safir said it wasn't him but former First Deputy Tosano Simonetti who reinstated Creditor. On Dec. 12, Safir said he played "no role" in Creditor's case. On Dec. 19, when shown Assistant Department Advocate Kevin Lubin's memo to Simonetti, saying Safir had "reviewed this case and determined it be negotiated," Safir remembered he had a "recollection" of telling Koshetz to negotiate the case before trial.
Last week, Safir was asked whether City Hall had contacted him about the case. He answered, "I can't talk about it because it's in litigation." Creditor is now suing the department for $50 million, claiming it violated his rights by forcing him to pay $50,000.
Last week, Safir said he couldn't talk about Foley "because she is suing the department." A check of computerized state and federal court records in the Southern District, Manhattan, shows that Foley has never sued the NYPD. Reached at the 45th Precinct Friday, she said, "I never sued the department. Where did he get that from?"
© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.