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Long career ends on a bitter note

April 2, 2001

Former Chief of Patrol John Scanlon held his farewell dinner last week at Leonard's in Great Neck. It was sold out.

There'd been talk of holding it in Manhattan, but that would have put ticket prices in the $150 range and Scanlon, known as a "cop's cop," wanted someplace more affordable. Per head cost at Leonard's was $70.

As a measure of Scanlon's esteem, three former commissioners attended-Bill Bratton, Ray Kelly and Howard Safir-and former and current first deputies Pat Kelleher and Joe Dunne.

But despite the encomiums lavished upon him, one sensed a tinge of bitterness when Scanlon referred to Safir as the last commissioner he served. Last September, a month after succeeding Safir, Bernard Kerik-supposedly at Dunne's initiative-told Scanlon he wanted to move him to the Transit Bureau. In the world of One Police Plaza, this was an insult.

Their conversation occurred on a Wednesday morning. Scanlon told Kerik he'd discuss it with his wife and get back to him the next day. But that evening, Scanlon was called at home and told his transfer had been broadcast on the police teletype, effective midnight.

Scanlon waited a couple of hours until 9 p.m.-in police parlance, 2100 hours. Those four digits were the numbers of his first radio patrol car in the 48th Precinct in the Bronx 37 years ago. At precisely 2100 hours, Scanlon called the Operations Unit at headquarters to announce his retirement.

"I used it as the symbolism of my 37 years in the department," he explained then. "I began in patrol. I wanted to finish in patrol."

The circumstances surrounding Scanlon's departure represent an unwritten rule of upper-echelon police life. It goes something like this: The higher you rise, the greater your ego and chances of disappointment. A corollary to this is:The higher you rise, the more you want to remain.

Let's begin with Kelleher, who served loyally as Safir's first deputy and now makes big bucks at Merrill Lynch. He was so artfully finessed out of the top job that the full story may never be known.

The short version is that he retired in July, unaware Safir would depart a month later. Does anyone believe he'd have retired if promised Safir's job?

Kelly, who served under Mayor David Dinkins and remains forever etched in memory for his Marine Corps bearing on national television after the World Trade Center bombing, tried to remain commissioner after Rudy Giuliani defeated Dinkins in 1993.

Through Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari, he secured a meeting with the mayor-elect at the Tudor Hotel to argue his case. Unsuccessful, he then served as an Undersecretary of the Treasury and Commissioner of Customs in the Clinton administration, while harboring a resentment of Bratton, whom Rudy chose to replace him.

Like Kelleher, Kelly is now making big bucks, with Bear Stearns. Many believe he'd give up the money to return as commissioner.

We all know the Bratton story. His successes-and his publicity-so infuriated Rudy, he sent Boston Billy packing at first opportunity, forcing him to take the "Joe Blow" security job he'd publicly forsworn.

Bratton also is making the big bucks now, while positioning himself for a return with mayoral candidate Mark Green.

Now let's turn to Dunne, who some believe engineered Scanlon's departure to promote his guys from Brooklyn North. In August, as chief of department, he possessed the bearing and credentials of a 30-year veteran to succeed Safir. With Kelleher gone, he also had Safir's backing.

Nonetheless, the mayor ignored the recommendation of "the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city," as he had taken to referring to Safir.

Instead, he appointed Dunne first deputy, which Dunne accepted as a booby prize. As commissioner, the mayor appointed Kerik, his former driver and bodyguard, with no college degree and only eight years on the job.

Kerik was a no-show at Scanlon's dinner. In office only seven months, he's already angling for the next mayor to retain him.

Broken Windows or Window Blinds?
Last week, the Police Foundation invited some out-of-town foundation types to Police Plaza for a seminar. The city's daily newspapers, except Newsday, were invited.

The department presented a live COMPSTAT show, with police inquisitors demanding answers from subordinates to such weighty crime problems as why the broken window blinds of a Brooklyn detective squad had not been repaired.

Participants then departed in two police buses, escorted by two marked police cars, lights flashing.

No wonder they didn't want Newsday there.

Number of weeks Safir has been provided with a police security detail: 33.

Approximate number of detail whose detectives serve as his valets and chauffeurs: nine.

Stated justification for detail: threats on his life.

Evidence of threats: zero.

Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this column.

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© 2001 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.