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One official’s sense of security

November 20, 2000

Let's begin with how Mayor Rudolph Giuliani got Council Speaker Peter Vallone to retract his criticism of the 13-officer security detail the Police Department provides Howard Safir.

Vallone, who has six detectives in his security detail, called the size of Safir's detail "absurd."

"If he Safir believes he needs extra security, he should do it out of his own pocket," Vallone said in an interview last week.

But after meeting with the mayor, Vallone's spokesman telephoned reporters to say Vallone had reconsidered. Vallone, the spokesman said, now felt security should be left to the police commissioner.

City Hall sources say Giuliani told Vallone the department had secret information warranting Safir's detail, which, the mayor said, was similar to the security detail given former mayor David N. Dinkins.

Vallone never pressed for details. Nor did he speak to Dinkins, who told One Police Plaza Confidential: "I never had a security detail. I had a car and a driver for six months, which was what I had designated for my predecessor, Ed Koch."

In light of the mayor's statement to Vallone-and the fact that none of the half-dozen police officials contacted last week believe a credible threat exists against Safir-Your Humble Servant wonders if Giuliani's "secret information" is a canard to support his agenda, as has occurred in the past.

For example, despite the FBI acknowledging there were no specific terrorist threats against City Hall, the mayor closed the plaza to the public, adding barriers and police guards after two U.S. embassies in East Africa were bombed.

In October, 1999, Danny Oates, the head of the Police Department's Intelligence Division, testified in a federal lawsuit that the mayor had 80 threats against him that year and Safir had 12. But Oates never explained which, if any, of those threats were deemed credible.

A former top police official told Newsday last week: "The vast majority of threats are nut jobs-anonymous calls to 911 that can't be tracked. Most information comes from newspapers or the Internet. Where they become serious is where you get an informant and they talk of whacking a cop. Decades ago, we had deep undercovers in groups like the Black Panthers for precisely this reason."

Interestingly, the lawsuit in which Oates testified was brought against Safir by Housing Works, an AIDS support group that had been barred from demonstrating at City Hall plaza for "security reasons."

Around the same time, the mayor permitted more than 5,000 people to attend the Yankees World Series celebration in the same plaza.

Also interesting is that Safir attended a conference of the International Association of Police Chiefs in San Diego last week-without his detail. Does that mean those threatening Safir will strike only in New York? Or that contrary to what the mayor has told us, San Diego, not New York, is the nation's safest large city?

As a federal agent, Safir busted drug gangs. Former police commissioner Ben Ward made the first run at those gangs in the mid-1980s and was threatened by them. And they meant it. They killed cops, like Eddie Byrne, who was shot in his patrol car while protecting a witness.

State Supreme Court Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, who presided over the trial of the drug gang known as the Wild Cowboys in Manhattan, was also threatened by gang members.

Yet when Ward retired, he never received a security detail. And Snyder, who is still on the bench, was given a detail that police sources say was smaller than Safir's.

One of the more amusing aspects of One Police Plaza was watching Safir walk the halls of headquarters with his security detail. He would descend from his 14th-floor office in his private elevator while detectives stationed themselves at various points in the hallways, walkie-talkies in hand. Were they concerned for his safety inside police headquarters?

Or did having a large detail allow Safir to create the semblance he was someone who "mattered?" Remember, he is the man Bill Bratton called "the Rodney Dangerfield of law enforcement."

A former chief told Newsday last week: "When will an honest man step forward and say this is just wrong? Seeing abuses like this, honest people's attitudes change. Corruption is accepted because that is what this is."

Bernard Kerik has been police commissioner for three months now. Yes, as he has said, he has a demanding boss. But if he fears to speak out on this issue, he will be regarded as nothing more than a first deputy.

Staff writer Graham Rayman contributed to this column.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.