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Leffler asked to step down

March 3, 1998

The former prosecutors who run the Giuliani administration have questioned many a witness under oath. But now that a city councilman is requiring top police officials to take an oath before testifying, Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro is calling for him to "step down."

"His anti-cop bias is appalling," Mastro said of Queens city councilman Sheldon Leffler. "He has so politicized this committee that he has single-handedly become a bottleneck for criminal justice reform. He would do us all a great public service by stepping down."

Mastro's remarks - conveyed to Newsday through mayoral spokesman Jack Deacy - followed Leffler's demand last week that a top police offical appearing before the Public Safety Committee swear an oath to tell the truth.

This column reported yesterday that Leffler instituted a policy of swearing in all committee witnesses earlier this year after Police Commissioner Howard Safir testified before the Public Safety Committee in December. In his testimony, Safir neglected to inform its members that in August, the department had discovered that subway crime had been under-reported by 20 percent for three decades.

"I would have to say he concealed it," Leffler told Newsday.

In addition, Leffler said that Safir had given "contradictory" testimony to the committee about the establishment of a police substation in the 105th Precinct in Queens. Safir announced the establishment of the substation two weeks ago amid criticism of his deal to have a Wall Street business group pay $5 million to open another substation near Wall Street. In announcing the Queens substation, Safir said the decision had been made seven months ago but he made no menton of it in his December testimony.

Yesterday, Leffler said of Mastro's remarks: "I have no intention of stepping down. What they want are patsies. They don't want people who do their jobs. I do my job. What local public official over last 20 plus years has devoted more time to the job than me? I am not bottle-necking anything. I have taken four days of vacation in 21 years."

Leffler said he had reason to require witnesses to take an oath before testifying. "The refusal to take the oath diminishes the seriousness of the council," he said. "It indicates the work here is not to be taken seriously. You don't have to promise you are teling the truth. You can just wing it."

In a hearing Jan. 4, Insp. Thomas Belfiore, the commanding officer of the Police Academy, expressed no reservation about testifying under oath about the sale of trigger locks.

But last week, when Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters George Grasso appeared before the council to testify about an amendment to the city's "box-cutter" law, Mastro's assistant, Jake Menges, forbade Grasso to testify.

According to Leffler, Menges said it was "demeaning" for a police officer, who is sworn to tell the truth, to take the oath.

After an hour and a half stand-off, City Council Speaker Pater Vallone capitulated and allowed Grasso to testify without the oath.

Vallone said yesterday through a spokesman, "The administration just doesn't get it. All the chairman has ever asked for is information, simple and straight."

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© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.