One Police Plaza

Safir tees off for cop museum

October 16, 2000

As you read this column, former police commissioner Howard Safir, some fat cat friends and police officers are scheduled to tee off at the Deepdale Golf Club just over the Queens border in Nassau County. The event: the New York City Police Museum's second annual golf outing.

Cost per person: $1,875. Cost per foursome: $7,500.

This is the museum's second golf fund raiser in the past two weeks.

On Tuesday, a poor man's version that cost only $130 a head occurred at the Lido Beach Country Club, also in Nassau County. According to a flier, the events' "Honorary Co-Chairman" is Safir. Participants at Lido-and some in the department are questioning whether they played on city time-included Chief of Department Joe Esposito, Chief of Intelligence Danny Oates, at least one lieutenant and some sergeants, including the museum's executive director, Sgt. Tom Gambino, who organized both outings.

Until Your Humble Servant started asking questions, Gambino and some of those other officers (though not Esposito or Oates) were planning to tee off this morning at Deepdale. Perhaps with the special assignment money Safir awarded him, Gambino can afford the $1,875 Deepdale fee.

More likely, as they were at Lido, he and the others will be "comped," their fees paid for by Safir's fat cat friends. The Police Department's patrol guide, of course, forbids officers from accepting gratuities of more than $50, although being comped at such department-sanctioned events as the Police Foundation's annual dinner dance is standard operating procedure.

Esposito and Oates did not return calls. People in both their offices told One Police Plaza Deepdale did not appear on their schedules for today.

This is not the first time that the Police Museum-of which Safir's wife, Carol, is the unpaid chairwoman and to which Safir, before resigning as commissioner, assigned two-dozen officers, full-time-has placed the department in a, shall we say, delicate position. Two years ago, unable to raise sufficient funds, he and Carol personally tried to solicit contributions from such Wall Street firms as Merrill Lynch and Paine Webber.

The idea of police officers having their fees paid by fat cats eager to mingle with them "creates the impression that money buys access," says Sheldon Leffler, chairman of the City Council's Public Safety Committee.

Officers attending Safir's golf fund raisers create the appearance, Leffler says, "that Safir retains significant ties to high officials in the department, particularly with his wife retaining an ongoing tie to the museum. And when he solicits from the public, wealthy individuals and corporations might feel their relations with the Police Department would be adversely affected if they didn't contribute."

According to the patrol guide, any officer arranging an outside event, even a charitable one, must have his plans approved by the Internal Affairs Bureau so the department can avoid a perceived or actual impropriety.

Police sources say a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association delegate was recently penalized 15 vacation days for arranging a similar outing for Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital without obtaining department approval.

But Gambino, who arranged the police museum golf outings, is not subject to such strictures because, says a top police official, the museum is a nonprofit corporation.

Apparently, the department deems it irrelevant that Gambino is a New York City police sergeant, whose salary is paid by the New York City Police Department-not by the police museum.

Your Humble Servant's quest to reach Safir proved unsuccessful. Safir does not maintain an office in New York City but supposedly can be contacted through the department's former spokeswoman Marilyn Mode.

Although Mode no longer works for the department, the city still pays her $113,000 salary. A phone call to her office at the city's Office of Emergency Management was routed to the voice mail of that agency's official spokesman Frank McCarton, who did not return a call.

Meanwhile, a visit to the Police Museum at 4:15 p.m. Thursday found it empty except for five police officers at the front desk. Gambino, they said, had left for the day.

A return visit at noon Friday found the museum still empty of museum- goers. The guest book showed four signatures for that day so far and 15 from the day before. The officer at the desk said Gambino was unavailable and referred inquiries about the museum to the department's Office of Public Information.

Deputy Chief Tom Fahey, a department spokesman, professed no concern with the museum's golf outings, although he said he might have more trouble excusing an officer being comped for $1,875 than for $130.

Asked how Safir's successor, Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, could justify assigning two dozen officers to a detail that made the Police Museum, per capita, safer than the nearby Federal Reserve Bank, the department's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Tom Antenen smiled but offered no response.

©2000 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.