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Low crime, but high priority

February 16, 1998

Police Commissioner Howard Safir has quietly arranged for a new police station with 200 officers to open this summer near Wall Street. As part of the deal, downtown business leaders have agreed to help pay for a new Police Museum of which Safir's wife is the interim chairwoman.

According to a memorandum of understanding with the Police Department, the Alliance for Downtown New York, a group of private business interests, will pay $5 million over the next 10 years to fund the substation.

As part of the deal, reached with no public discussion, the alliance will help pay for a nearby site at 25 Broadway to house a pet project of Safir: the Police Museum, which has languished for years in a small, dark room inside the Police Academy. To lead the museum's fund-raising effort, Safir last year created the Museum Foundation. He appointed his wife, Carol, as interim chairwoman. The position is unpaid.

Under Carol Safir, say people familiar with the project, the Museum Foundation is attempting to obtain tax-exempt status to raise at least $1 million.

Most police precincts have between 200 and 300 officers. Virtually all have a higher crime rate than the First Precinct, in which the Wall Street area is located.

The First Precinct, which is not densely populated, was one of only three in the city last year with no homicides. Of the city's 76 precincts, it ranks 64th in rapes, 61st in robberies and 65th in assaults.

Sheldon Leffler, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said he was unaware of the plans for the substation, which will be at 104 Washington St., a few blocks from Wall Street.

"Are you telling me that in the precinct tied for the lowest homicide rate and with very low crime statistics they are setting up a substation?" said Leffler, a Queens Democrat.

"Out here in Queens, we have been trying to set up a substation in the 105th Precinct for 20 years because response time has been one of the lowest rated in the city. Safir supposedly has been studying this for some time."

Safir's acceptance of private funds to pay for NYPD services appears to be in keeping with the philosophy of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration.

Rather then assigning cops to regular police details for events at Madison Square Garden, for example, Giuliani and Safir have begun contracting out off-duty cops to private concerns such as the National Basketball Association.

Safir said last week that the department would expand the program because it had proven so successful.

Last year, Safir raised private funds to run a crime strategy session for top police commanders at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, then charged the public a fee to attend. For reasons he never explained, he barred former Commissioner William Bratton.

It was Bratton who conceived the museum restoration plan when, as commissioner, he suggested it to his colleague, former transit police Chief Michael O'Connor, who'd become a top executive with the Alliance for Downtown New York.

As a person familiar with the plan put it, "Bratton was looking to have the museum restored. The alliance was looking for increased police protection."

O'Connor said he could not comment until he received approval from Safir. He did not return numerous subsequent calls to his office. Carl Weisbrod, head of the alliance, also did not return a phone call.

Safir's spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, refused to discuss the plan.

But the memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by Newsday, puts it this way: "The NYPD shall use its best efforts to assign a minimum of 200 police officers to utilize the facility in a manner similar to a police station house. A significant portion . . . of these officers will be those regularly used for enforcement purposes in the lower Manhattan area."

According to the memorandum, the alliance will pay all operating costs of the museum and the substation, including rent, utilities, cleaning services, real estate taxes, and the maintenance of muster rooms, locker rooms and restrooms with showers "of a size sufficient to house all NYPD personnel assigned to the facility."

The substation also will have a lunch room "accessible only to NYPD personnel and their invitees," the memorandum reads.

But in one regard, the Wall Street substation will be different from all others. As the memorandum states: "Under no circumstances shall any portion of the facility be used for the processing, interrogation, detention or lodging of prisoners."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.