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Fallout from crime reports

February 27, 1998

Nearly two months after Police Commissioner Howard Safir dropped his bombshell announcement that subway crime has been underreported for decades, the top subway cop has been sent a signal to retire.

In the tight-lipped world of One Police Plaza, sources told Newsday the following: that Transportation Bureau Chief Kenneth Donohue, on sick-leave since undergoing cancer surgery, telephoned Safir yesterday, informing him he planned to return to work today.

The sources say that in reply, Safir had a subordinate tell Donohue that if he returned, it would not be to his current position. The inference, said police sources, was that Donohue faced demotion.

Donohue, 53, a 32-year police veteran, did not return telephone messages to his home. He remains a member of the police force, at least for now.

Deputy Police Commissioner Marilyn Mode also declined to comment.

In a dramatic announcement Jan. 7, Safir said that subway crime had been underreported for three decades by an estimated 20 percent because of what he termed a systemic "flaw" in the system. The underreporting, he said, began as early as 1967 and continued after the Transit Authority police force was merged with the NYPD in 1995.

Subway crime has been one of the city's most explosive political issues, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has made the reduction of crime the cornerstone of his administration.

Safir also announced at the time that departmental charges had been filed against a former Transit deputy chief, Vinnie DeMarino, for failing to appropriately report crime statistics. There has been no resolution of that case.

About Donohue, the former head of the Transit Police who became the first Transit Bureau Chief within the NYPD, Safir said in January only that he was in the hospital undergong surgery.

Since the underreporting discovery, the department's Internal Affairs Bureau has been investigating. Police sources say that many officers questioned have fingered Donohue.

Although Safir never mentioned her, one of those appears to have been Capt. Kim Foley, who brought the underreporting to the attention of the higher-ups when she faxed her complaints to Safir and First Deputy Patrick Kelleher. Her faxes flew after Donohue transferred her to Brooklyn and waged what she said was a vicious campaign of harassment against her.

A colleague of former police commissioner William Bratton and his deputy Jack Maple, Donohue nonetheless appeared to thrive after Giuliani forced Bratton to retire. He became a favorite of Chief of Department Louis Anemone and filled in for him as acting chief of department, jumping over more senior chiefs. Still, police sources say, City Hall always viewed him as a Bratton crony, which may have hastened his end.

In the cynical nuance of police headquarters, one retired chief added: "You have to know when to hold them and when to fold them. He should have bailed out without being told."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.