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Safir’s imprint on Police Department crime

August 14, 2000

No one in New York City will suffer the loss of Police Commissioner Howard Safir more deeply than Your Humble Servant.

Who but Howard Safir claimed in his resume he had graduated from Brooklyn law school although he had dropped out after a year?

Who but Howard Safir traveled to the Dominican Republic to set up a Police Department outpost to nab fugitives, only to have the plan turn into an international incident when Dominicans protested?

Who but Howard Safir sued a driver who rear-ended his wife for $1.5 million for "loss of consortium?"

Who but Howard Safir agreed to open a police sub-station near Wall Street in return for Wall Streeters funding a police museum chaired by his wife? He then assigned two dozen police officers to the museum.

Who but Howard Safir was forced to pay his ghostwriter Don Moldea $17, 000 after a jury ruled Safir had failed to inform him that a book proposal about Safir's life similar to one Moldea had prepared with Safir had been rejected by a dozen publishers?

Who but Howard Safir referred to his predecessor Bill Bratton as "some airport cop from Boston" while maintaining that he himself had pursued the Asian drug lord known as Khun Sa? Bratton pointed out that as far as he knew, Khun Sa had never been captured. He termed Safir "the Rodney Dangerfield of Law Enforcement." Safir subsequently admitted he'd never pursued Khun Sa.

Who but Howard Safir claimed a "scheduling conflict" to avoid testifying at a City Council hearing on the Amadou Diallo shooting? The night before, he was spotted on television at the Oscar ceremonies in Hollywood. It turned out that a Revlon corporation executive had paid for his trip - estimated cost $7,000. Although Safir has said he repaid the money, no one in this town has acknowledged seeing the check, including the Conflict of Interest Board, which is still investigating.

And who but Howard Safir turned a minor sexual harassment allegation into a million-dollar settlement to Deputy Commissioner Sandra Marsh by ordering her to rewrite her report to exonerate two high-ranking chiefs? Marsh refused, resigned, sued Safir and the department and last month was awarded $1.2 million. Safir was holed up in his office for four hours Friday, forced to testify in further lawsuits resulting from that case (to be continued, dear readers).

His legacy. We turn now to Safir's so-called legacy. According to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Safir is "the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city" because crime fell faster than at any other time.

First, anyone who accepts anything the mayor says does so at his peril. Second, sometimes crime rises or falls, regardless of what a commissioner does. Take Robert McGuire, one of the city's best police commissioners, (1978-83). During those years crime soared. There were two reasons for this-both beyond McGuire's control. The first was the beginnings of the crack epidemic; the second, budget cuts that reduced the department to nearly half today's size.

Even Safir has acknowledged that crime is affected by outside forces-at least when crime rises. Safir blamed last summer's increase in homicides on the media, specifically, negative reporting on the Street Crime Unit after the fatal shooting of Diallo, an unarmed Bronx man, last year.

But this year when homicides fell, Safir credited the Police Department's drug initiative, Operation Condor. Howard, you can't have it both ways.

Finally, we turn to the department's foremost historian Thomas Reppetto and his just published history of the NYPD, titled, "NYPD: A City and Its Police. " Reppetto devotes a full chapter to Bratton. There are but three mentions of Safir.

The plot thickens. The greatest police commissioner in the city's history has recommended Chief of Department Joe Dunne as his successor.

But at least at this writing, Giuliani is hesitating, also considering Corrections Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

No doubt, the mayor understands that Safir's recommendation of Dunne reflects his rivalry with Kerik, also a former cop. With City Hall approving all police promotions above the rank of captain, Kerik earlier this year tried to thwart Safir's promotion of a deputy inspector, who had been Kerik's supervisor. In that instance, Kerick was unsuccessful.

In the line of duty? The medical board has approved a tax-free, line-of-duty disability pension for retiring Chief of Personnel Mike Markman for a back injury that occurred seven years ago. As personnel chief, Markman blocked many officers trying to retire with similar line-of-duty injuries.

Markman filed for his pension on Aug. 3. The medical board examined him four days later. Regular officers wait months.

Markman's examination occurred in the private office of Chief Surgeon Robert Thomas.

He appears before the pension board next month for final approval.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.