Safir avoids responsibility
November 8, 1999
Police Commissioner Howard Safir's latest harebrained scheme-sending free MetroCards to murderers, rapists and other felons so that cops could arrest them as they entered the subway-doesn't make him the worst commissioner of the century, as a Post columnist recently described him.
Rather, Safir's subway sting depicts him-again-as the commissioner least likely to take responsibility for his actions, a characterization which his spokeswoman described as "---." But this is the same man who tripled the size of the Street Crime Unit, against the advice of its longtime commander. Then, after four street crime cops, in the unit only a few months, shot unarmed Amadou Diallo 19 times, he blamed the media for his decision to place the entire unit in uniform. When the unit's morale plummeted and the number of gun arrests dropped, Safir blamed the media for that. Ditto when the number of homicides began to rise.
Now, let's examine Safir's subway caper. On Thursday, Oct. 28, Chief George Brown of the Transit Bureau sent a teletype to transit commands that began: "The department has comprised a list of wanted persons that have been positively identified for murder, shootings or are subjects that have been identified and probable cause for an arrest has been established ..." The teletype then explained that free MetroCards would be sent to these mopes' last known addresses.
Six days later, on Wednesday, Nov. 3, the Daily News and Newsday learned of the teletype. Safir's spokeswoman, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode, arranged for First Deputy Pat Kelleher-not Safir-to discuss it.
Loyal to a fault, Kelleher called it "a good program." The News' Nov. 4 story, however, quoted Safir's predecessor, Bill Bratton, as saying the subway sting was the dumbest idea he'd ever heard. Bratton's former deputy Jack Maple, who Safir now credits as the genius behind Bratton, was quoted, saying that luring felons into the subways could jeopardize the lives of innocent people, to say nothing of creating another Diallo incident.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani saw the word Diallo and announced the subway sting was over. He referred all questions to Safir. This is what Safir said.
"The execution of the plan as described in the teletype ... is not the way I want it done or would approve of it being done, and I had nothing do with that one." He added he was unaware how the plan had been implemented until he read news reports of it. He declined to say which details of the plan he had approved.
Nor would he explain how a different version of that plan was in effect for six days without his knowledge.
Clark, who arranged for Commissioner Safir to fly to Los Angeles in 1996 to play himself in an episode of "NYPD Blue" (And Giuliani knocked Bratton for going Hollywood!), is now furious at the NYPD-in particular detective Joe Pentangelo of its public information office.
Pentangelo, an actor himself who has appeared in dozens of movies including "Crocodile Dundee" and such televison shows as "Law and Order," had the effrontery to tell The New York Times that police shows such as "NYPD Blue" and the short-lived "Brooklyn South," in which Clark was also involved, were unrealistic. "I have never seen cops get that wrapped up about things that they are doing," he said.
This so incensed Clark he told people Pentangelo would never work in any production Clark was involved in. "What he said hurt me," Clark explained.
Clark was so hurt he called Pentangelo's boss, Inspector Mike Collins. "I guess I mentioned that to him," Clark allowed. Collins declined comment.
Pentangelo-apparently afraid of being transferred to a foot post in the Bronx-also wasn't talking.
So far, 232 days have elapsed without Mayor Giuliani being able to resolve what appears to be a simple ethical dilemma-his police commissioner can accept a $7,000 freebie when a police officer can't accept a cup of coffee.
© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.