One Police Plaza

The book on Safir: Highly forgettable

June 5, 2000

When he was sworn in as police commissioner in 1996 in an inaugural that rivaled that of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani himself, Howard Safir was overlooked by mayoral counsel and master of ceremonies Dennison Young.

After introducing Safir, Young went straight to the benediction, forgetting Safir intended to make a speech.

Now, after serving four years, making him the eighth-longest-serving police commissioner, Safir has been overlooked again, this time in a history of the NYPD by James Lardner and Tom Reppetto.

While his predecessor Bill Bratton is given an entire chapter, Safir is mentioned only three times-two negatively, both in connection with his expansion and subsequent disbanding of the Street Crime Unit.

Such a perspective might be understandable from Lardner, the author of a Bratton panegyric in the New Yorker magazine in 1995 that led to Bratton's public flogging by the mayor's spokeswoman, Cristyne Lategano, and the mayor's dismissal of Bratton's spokesman, John Miller.

But what of Reppetto, who heads something called the Citizens Crime Commission, where he has been a department booster for the past 20 years? Under former commissioners Lee Brown and Ray Kelly, he was a cheerleader for "community policing." When, however, Bratton scrapped community policing, his top aides referring to it as "social work," Reppetto dropped community policing from his vocabulary.

Interestingly enough, in recent months Bratton has been praising community policing as he has signed on as an adviser to such Democratic political candidates as Mark Green and Hillary Rodham Clinton. There are even those who say Bratton is angling for his own shot as mayor.

Reppetto declined to expand on his views of Bratton and Safir. He said he'd been ordered by his publisher to keep his mouth shut until publication date in August.

Wendy's Whining. While detectives arrested the two alleged killers in the Wendy's restaurant massacre within 36 hours of the shootings, some investigators have grumbled to union officials about the manner in which their bosses pressured them to obtain the cell-phone records that led to the capture of one of the suspects.

John Taylor was arrested at a relative's home in Brentwood after detectives appear to have traced a call he made on a cell phone he'd stolen from one of his seven victims, union sources told Newsday.

The sources say detectives were concerned they had been ordered to obtain the records from the phone carrier before obtaining a subpoena, as is standard practice.

Police and Queens District Attorney spokespersons maintain the records were obtained properly during what Deputy Chief Tom Fahey described as "an emergency situation." Queens District Attorney spokeswoman Mary de Bourbon said, "All the phone-company subpoenas were properly issued and served before any information was handed over."

A veteran prosecutor with no connection to the Wendy's case said, "Normally, you obtain a grand-jury subpoena from the DA's office with just a phone call. But in an emergency situation, the phone company may provide documents without a subpoena, with the understanding it is in the works." He added, "Certain phone carriers are more responsive to law enforcement than others."

OK, so why the grumbling? Some speculate this may have less to do with the Wendy's investigation than with the detectives' negative feelings towards their boss at the top of the Detective Bureau.

Public Relations 101. Your Humble Servant recently received the following letter from Deputy Mayor Tony Coles. Dated May 25, it read: "For the record, please note that the One Police Plaza column of this past Monday regarding the NYC Convention and Visitors Bureau is inaccurate." Coles, who did not return a phone call when this column reported two weeks ago on City Hall pressure to land Lategano a job there, also did not return a phone call last week to specify what was inaccurate.

Meanwhile, City Hall's crack public-relations expert Sunny (The Silent) Mindel was having her own problem with a reporter, who, on the Friday night after the two Wendy's shooting suspects were captured, came upon her, the mayor and the mayor's new love, Judi Nathan, dining together at a midtown restaurant. Mindel first denied what the reporter had seen, then said of the mayor's dinner with Judi, "So what if he did?" Like Coles, Sunny did not return phone calls.

Now and Then. Mayor Giuliani's (and to a lesser extent Commissioner Safir's) public disclosure of prostate cancer contrasts with how at least one former police chief handled his cancer in the past. Nearly two decades ago, Internal Affairs Chief John Guido (who was as feared by cops then as Giuliani and Safir are today) was diagnosed with colon cancer. Rather than give his enemies the satisfaction of knowing he was seriously ill, Guido underwent surgery on his vacation, returning three weeks later, never saying a word about it and never taking a sick day.

The surgery proved successful. Now retired and in his 70s, Guido is still mowing his lawn in Queens.

©2000 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.