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Playing on both sides of the aisle

October 9, 2000

Chief of Patrol William Morange was officially sworn in Friday, and who rushed up to stand next to him for a photo on the dais at One Police Plaza but the Rev. Lawrence Lucas? The Rev. Larry Lucas?

Yes, the same black Roman Catholic priest, now a chaplain at Rikers Island prison, who has supported such anti-police-like causes as the 1980s Days of Outrage, tying up public transportation and early parole for Yusef Salaam, one of a group of black youths convicted of raping a white female jogger in Central Park.

This reporter's first glimpse of Lucas occurred nearly 15 years ago when he entered the Bronx courtroom in which Larry Davis stood trial on charges of shooting six cops and embraced Davis' attorney, William Kunstler in a bear hug.

"Do you see Larry?" Lucas was asked Friday. Though acquitted of shooting the cops, Davis was subsequently convicted of killing a rival drug dealer.

"He's not at Rikers. He's upstate," said Lucas.

"Are you in touch with him?"

"Yes and no."

"And you're here today to support Chief Morange?"

"You bet."

OK, so what's going on here? How does a radical black priest, who befriended and defended an alleged cop shooter, come to One Police Plaza to support Morange, whom Lucas knew from years before when Morange commanded Harlem's 28th Precinct?

He and Morange disappeared before Your Humble Servant thought to ask, so instead we tracked down former First Deputy John Timoney, now police commissioner of Philadelphia, who knows both men.

"It's complex," said Timoney. "Police officials can't afford to pick and choose who they meet with. Just because you don't like their politics or they say, 'We can't trust you' doesn't mean you don't meet with them.

"And did you know," Timoney added, "that another police officer close to Lucas was Louie Anemone?"

He referred to the supposedly racially insensitive former chief of department. As Lucas had with Larry Davis in the 1980s, Anemone had befriended and defended ex-cop Francis Livoti, convicted of causing the death of Anthony Baez in one of the city's most racially charged incidents of the '90s.

"It's true," says Anemone of Lucas. "I was commander of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem. He Lucas was pastor of the local church. As a police commander, I couldn't pick my friends. We disagreed about many things.

"He distrusted the police, but underneath it all we were both men of good will. He was invited to speak at the precinct.

"And he wasn't the only local official person we met with," Anemone continued. "We also met with Calvin Butts pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church , Virginia Fields now Manhattan borough president , Keith Wright, the son of the judge Bruce Wright, known to cops as 'Turn 'Em Loose Bruce' .

"In the police department," says Anemone, "you learn you have to work with everyone. I'm amazed you guys are shocked by this."

What Lucas' appearance at police headquarters suggests is that relations between the police and the city's minority communities are, indeed, more complex than the manner in which many of those very leaders and many in the media -this reporter included -portray them.

Actually, the department has a cadre of white officers like Morange, who as commander of the 28th Precinct was referred to by cops there as "the white prince of Harlem," or the newly appointed chief of department Joe Esposito, who has equally close ties to Brooklyn's Hispanic and Hasidic communities.

In short, these are white chiefs who feel perfectly comfortable, indeed, enjoy, mixing with people of different races or religions.

Perhaps the best-known of these officers is First Deputy Commissioner Joe Dunne, who has strong relations with many non-whites inside and outside the department. (Judging from the hug Dunne gave Morange at his swearing-in, he was probably his "rabbi" -a term in police parlance that means something somewhere between mentor and benefactor.)

Newly appointed Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik spoke Friday of the department's need to "repair" community relations, although he can't go too far along that road without criticizing his predecessor Howard Safir and incurring the wrath of Rudolph Giuliani, who has spent most of his seven years as mayor refusing to meet with 98 percent of all New Yorkers, black and white.

Giuliani also prevented the police department from meeting with community leaders and elected officials not to his liking. Chief Rafael Pineiro, the department's highest-ranking Hispanic officer, lost his Bronx Borough command and has been confined to house arrest at One Police Plaza for five years because the mayor felt Pineiro was too close to Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, with whom Pineiro dealt as he did any other elected official.

Safir used to say that the media reports to the contrary, he was always welcomed and even thanked by the city's non-white citizens whenever he traveled to their neighborhoods. But Safir refused to allow the media to accompany him on these visits, and given some of his purposeful mis-statements on other matters, nobody believed him.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.