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It's lights-out for group of police buffs

September 10, 2004

The long arm of the NYPD has reached out and grabbed Al Fried, Joseph Dippell Jr. and Robert Fagenson.

More specifically, the Internal Affairs Bureau has told them to ditch the lights and sirens on their cars.

The three are, respectively, the chairman, president and treasurer of the Centurion Foundation, one of the groups of police buffs that have attached themselves to the department as a barnacle does to a boat.

Some of the Centurions are Wall Street guys - most notably Fagenson, the vice chairman of Van der Moolen Specialists. The group has raised $250,000 for the department during the past year.

So bonded to the department were the Centurions that they had their lights and sirens installed on their cars by the department. Even under Commissioner Ray Kelly, Fried and/or Dippell have appeared at ceremonies at One Police Plaza, handing out checks of $500 or $1,000 to police in well-publicized arrests.

For reasons ordinary citizens might not comprehend, buffs, especially buffs who work on Wall Street, love lights and sirens. Former exchange chairman Richard Grasso, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the department through a higher class of buffs known as the Police Foundation, was said to have had lights and sirens on his stock-exchange car.

Sources in Buff-land say Fagenson's lights and sirens were on his own car.

Christiaan Brakman, a spokesman for the exchange, declined to comment about both men.

What led to the department's crackdown on the Centurions is not clear.

Buff-land sources say the mayor spotted Fried driving his black Crown Victoria, lights and sirens blaring, and that Bloomberg's detail jotted down the license-plate number. Then, detectives from Internal Affairs Bureau called.

"It was suggested that the lights and sirens were not appropriate," Fried said.

Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi said, "I never discuss internal police business."

Police sources say the lights and sirens have become a pet peeve of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who some months ago spotted such a car tooling up the West Side highway.

The car happened to be that of Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen. Although Cohen's use of the lights was said to have been authorized, no one has explained what police business he was on to justify the lights and sirens.

Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, who is prosecuting another buff for allegedly impersonating an FBI agent, said: "It is inappropriate for private citizens to drive around with flashing red lights and sirens."

In that case, investigators crawled under the buff's car, opened the hood and searched beneath the seats and in the trunk for the offending items, but the buff was clean.

So is the department confining its no-lights-and-sirens to the Centurions, or is it seeking other buff groups?

Premier Buff Reginald Ward, who heads the New York Law Enforcement Foundation and is an unsalaried deputy commissioner for the Mount Vernon police department in Westchester County, said his foundation members do not have lights or sirens.

"Case closed," he said.

Asked whether he drove a Mount Vernon police department car with lights and sirens, Ward said, "Whatever I have to do with the Mount Vernon police department is not your concern."

Dennis Schnur did not return a call to Newsday. The chairman of the Federal Drug Agents Foundation provided gym equipment for former commissioner Bernard Kerik.

And civilians' use of lights and sirens is related to another type of abuse by buffs - parking placards. Take the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation, the unofficial support group for the FBI which supplies placards resembling those issued by the NYPD.

Its chairman, Anthony Bergamo, says each member, including Revlon head Ronald Perelman, Sony head Tommy Mottola and public relations guru Howard Rubenstein, must donate $30,000 to the foundation.

Parking placards are given to them "only on foundation business to raise money." This allows them, he says, to park in spaces reserved for trucks and other commercial vehicles.

Kelly is to speak at the group's luncheon today at the University Club.

PBA, fading away? A year ago, this column noted that the once-mighty Patrolmen's Benevolent Association had so blown itself out that the keynote speaker at its annual convention was the virtually unknown Secretary of State Randy Daniels.

This year, it's someone named Steve Malzberg, a WABC radio personality.

Invited to the convention by the union: former commissioner Kerik. Not invited: Current commissioner Kelly.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.