Doing a Number on Public Again
January 10, 2000
Here's yet another reason why you'd better question everything that comes out of the mouths of the Police Department's top officials, beginning with Commissioner Howard Safir.
As evidenced by last week's exposure of the doctored crime statistics in Brooklyn's 88th Precinct, the fifth precinct (that we know of) where commanders have been accused of cooking the books, Safir's philosophy seems to approximate that of the United States military vis-a-vis homosexuality: Don't ask, don't tell.
The department now acknowledges that since late 1998 it has known that the 88th Precinct's former commander, Capt. Charles Dowd, cooked the books that year. But neither Safir nor anyone else in the department thought it was appropriate to alert the public - least of all 88th Precinct residents, who might have some interest in the matter.
Then three weeks ago, the Daily News reported that crime in the 88th Precinct in 1999 had skyrocketed 20 percent over 1998, giving that precinct the city's biggest crime-rate increase. No one in the department thought it prudent to tell the News the reason why.
Nor after the story appeared, did anyone set the record straight by explaining that the increase was based on skewed 1998 figures. God forbid the precinct's citizenry should know that things might not be as bad as they initially had appeared.
Only last week when the Times let on to Safir that they were aware of Dowd's shenanigans did the commissioner acknowledge the problem. As Safir put it to the Times, "The problem is that the former C.O. commanding officer was dumped because he was playing with the statistics."
As usual, Safir didn't tell the full story. He never told the Times he recently ordered the transfer of Dowd's successor, James Guida - brought into the precinct to clean up Dowd's mess - because of the precinct's steep crime rise rate based on Dowd's phony numbers.
Worse, Dowd's former direct superior, Brooklyn North borough commander, Asst. Chief Joseph Esposito, offered a contrary explanation for Dowd's skewed numbers. Esposito called them "sloppy record keeping."
Police sources say Esposito - who like Dowd and Safir did not return calls to Newsday - is friends with Dowd, whose father was also a ranking department official. (Dowd Sr. is said to have played a role 23 years ago in the apprehension of Richard Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam.)
These sources say that Esposito chose to have Dowd's statistics investigated not by the Quality Assurance Unit, which reports to the First Deputy, but by his own borough inspections unit. That allowed for the "sloppy record keeping" designation. That way Dowd could be transferred (he's now the number two man in the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park) rather than fired if, as Safir said, he'd been " playing with the statistics."
Among the four commanders previously accused of altering statistics, Safir has fired only one, Capt. Luis Vega of the Bronx. No doubt it was coincidence that Vega had been lured out of retirement and brought to the Bronx by Safir's arch- enemy, former 1st Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who the year before had offended Safir by calling him a lightweight.
Instead Safir's driver has taken to parking Safir's car in a spot reserved for City Council Speaker Peter Vallone.
When Safir's car is parked there, Vallone's driver performs what one aide describes as the City Hall "spin-around move." This entails the police officer at the east entrance, inside the iron gate surrounding the hall, unhinging the metal chain while Vallone's driver heads onto the bluestone to execute the spin move so that his car is turned and facing back east, then double parks elsewhere.
Vallone staffers insist the speaker is reluctant to speak to Safir about the parking situation because, as one puts it it, "The speaker doesn't think it's a big deal."
Norris is to be succeeded by Insp. Gary McCarthy, whose singular accomplishment seems to be his zealotry in promoting Safir. At a Citizens Crime Commission breakfast last year at which FBI head Louie Freeh was the keynote speaker, McCarthy described Safir as the greatest figure in law enforcement since the beginning of time.
© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.