One Police Plaza

Media’s got cops’ (scape)goat

October 11, 1999

Murders in New York City are up 10 percent from last year, and according to the police department's Deputy Commissioner for Operations Ed Norris, the media is to blame.

Or as Norris put it when asked by Your Humble Servant at John Jay College last week about the reasons for the rise in murders after five years of decline: "The media. They're killing us. Arrests are going down. Enforcement is going down. Every time a police officer gets involved in something he is convicted in the media the next day." Norris - who runs the vaunted COMPSTAT computer statistics program, the department's information system for tracking precinct crime trends - cited the police shooting death in February of Amadou Diallo as the turning point.

Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, was shot 19 times by four Street Crime Unit police officers. Three of them had recently joined the elite unit, which was tripled two years before by Police Commissioner Howard Safir over the objections of the unit's commander.

While one might dismiss Norris whining as that of a lone, albeit top, police official, his explanation reflects the thinking of the commissioner (and, no doubt, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.) As a top police department official close to Safir said of Norris, "He's part of our management team. We're all on the same page." As is her custom, the mayor's spokeswoman, Sunny (The Silent) Mindel, did not return phone calls to One Police Plaza Confidential.

While relations between the police and the media are professionally contentious, no commissioner in at least the past 25 years - including Murphy, Cawley, McGuire, Ward, Condon, Brown, Kelly and Bratton - has shown a contempt for the media (and the public) that Safir has.

He has given conflicting statements, as in describing his role in the reinstatement of dismissed police officer Jay Creditor so that Creditor could obtain a disability pension. He often misleads, saying that a "scheduling conflict" prevented his testifying before the City Council on Diallo's shooting. The conflict turned out to be his appearance the night before at the Oscars in Hollywood.

More often, Safir stonewalls or lashes out, blaming the media after the Diallo shooting for his decision to place the undercover Street Crime Unit in uniform, a misguided move he soon abandoned.

A former top police official points out that by blaming the media for the current rise in homicides, the Giuliani administration is creating a straw man.

First, homicides were rising citywide before the Diallo shooting. Second, the one borough in which murders are declining is the Bronx, where Diallo was shot.

Safir's stonewalling also allows exceptional police work to go uncredited. A year or so ago, the media ridiculed police in the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn for arresting bicyclists for minor infractions such as not having bells or whistles on their bikes.

According to Norris, those arrests followed a spate of late-night, drug-related, drive-by shooting deaths by young men on bicycles. The arrests occurred at checkpoints, Norris said, set up at the times and places of the shootings.

Asked Friday why the department never informed the public of the reasons for these bicycle arrests, Safir's spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, said "I'll get back to you." She did not.

Police Museum Notes. In April, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Schuyler Chapin told Newsday that the police museum chaired by Commissioner Safir's wife, Carol, had to raise $4 million to receive $1 million in matching city funds.

For reasons never explained, the museum must now raise only $1.7 to obtain the city's $1 million.

Following Commissioner Safir's refusal to answer questions about the museum's funding, One Police Plaza Confidential has, at Safir's suggestion, filed a Freedom of Information request, seeking the following information: l. How much money has the museum raised? 2. Who are its contributors? 3. How many officers are assigned there? 4. How many officers are constructing the museum's "renovation"? 5. What is the cost of the renovation? 6. What is the rent? Who is paying it? 7. What was the museum's revenue during the months it was open? .

Calender Check. Dates of Oscar Howard's trip to Hollywood with wife, Carol, on a Revlon jet, including two free nights at four-star hotel - estimated cost, $7,000: March 19-21.

Dates investigations begun into propriety of trip by the Conflicts of Interest Board and the Corporation Counsel: Last week in March.

Today's date: Oct. 11.

Number of days with no resolution: 204.

Graham Rayman contributed to this column.

©1999 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.