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Retirement helps wounds

November 6, 1998

Monday's retirement dinner of Chief Patrick Harnett provided an opportunity to heal some of the Police Department's highest-level tribal feuds.

Under the same roof appeared Police Commissioner Howard Safir, ex-Commissioner Bill Bratton and Bratton's first deputy, John Timoney, now police commissioner of Philadelphia. Safir doesn't speak to his NYPD predecessor or to Philly's commissioner, and vice versa. And when they do speak of each other, it hasn't been nice.

Timoney started it by dissing Safir after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani selected him, not Timoney, to succeed Bratton in 1996. Timoney's remarks so angered the mayor that he tried to cut Timoney's pension. Safir then retaliated against some of Timoney's loyalists by transferring his office staff out of One Police Plaza. More recently, Safir termed Bratton "some airport cop from Boston" and said Bratton never knew what went on at Police Plaza. Bratton, who continues to haunt (and taunt) both Safir and the mayor, called Safir "the Rodney Dangerfield of law enforcement."

Yet there they all were Monday night, sharing common ground to honor Harnett and make some modest healing gestures. Safir even referred to Timoney respectfully as "Commissioner Timoney." And Harnett, the former commanding officer of the Major Case squad, Emergency Service Unit and Narcotics Division, had the tact to praise all three without offending any of them (so far as is known.)

As Chief of Department Louis Anemone said of him, "He has the courage to speak the truth, no matter who wants to hear it." (He also had the courage to attend Timoney's Philadelphia inaugural, one of only two chiefs brave enough to do so.)

He began by relating how after Safir promoted him to chief of the Transportation Bureau, he told Safir, "I don't want to deceive you but I am thinking of retiring." Safir answered: "You're being promoted for what you did. If you get a good job offer, take it."

Printable versionHarnett recounted Safir's offer after Officer Michael Buczek was shot to death in 1988 and a suspect fled to the Dominican Republican. When the Dominican government balked at returning him, Safir, who then headed the U.S. Marshals Service, offered to fly down and bring him back. But Harnett's diplomacy prevailed and he was returned without an international incident.

Harnett then talked about Timoney. On Dec. 18, 1994, a crazed gunman began shooting people on Queens Boulevard. Nineteen cops responded, firing 267 shots, one of which killed a bystander. Timoney, then chief of department, went alone, Harnett said, in uniform, to the wake to apologize to the family for the actions of the department.

Finally, Harnett cited Bratton's role in re-energizing the Transit Police and then the NYPD.

Seated with Timoney, Bratton made no speech. And Safir made no mention of him. Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he regretted his disparaging remarks about Bratton, Safir refused to answer. That feud may go to the grave.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.