One Police Plaza

Safir at Odds With Successor

May 21, 2001

An undeclared war is raging between Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his predecessor, Howard Safir.

The conflict is being stoked by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose intervention in department business has allowed Safir-whom Giuliani has called "the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city"-to retain a role unprecedented for a former commissioner.

"It's like a gnat on an elephant," says a person familiar with the department's intricate politics.

Let's begin with the first area of conflict: Safir's continued use of a "security" detail that the mayor contends Safir needs because of "threats on his life."

No previous commissioner ever retained his security detail when he left office. Just ask Safir's predecessor, Bill Bratton, who lost his detail literally the same day Giuliani booted him out the door of One Police Plaza.

No one at One Police Plaza, Kerik included, believes that a threat exists against Safir. An indication that such a claim is fiction is that the members of Safir's detail-who function as valets and chauffeurs, not bodyguards-do not accompany him when he travels out of state.

Kerik appears to be caught between doing right by the department and doing right by Giuliani. Unlike Safir, who derided Bratton's accomplishments, calling him "some airport cop from Boston," Kerik has said nothing derogatory about Safir or his detail. Nonetheless, following media criticism, Kerik reduced its size last February from a dozen detectives to nine. But in an obvious bow of obeisance to Giuliani, he ordered the detail continued for another six months.

A second area of contention is the police museum, of which Safir's wife Carol is president and Safir is now a board member. As commissioner, Safir assigned the museum two dozen detectives, staffing it seven days a week around the clock. He also appointed Sgt. Tom Gambino of his office staff as the museum's executive director.

Publicly, Kerik says he supports the museum. But following media criticism, he reduced the number of cops assigned to it. Last month, amid allegations Gambino was driving a museum-leased luxury car and using a secret office hideaway at 55 Water St., a few blocks from the museum, Kerik transferred him and reduced the number of cops even further.

Safir responded by appointing as Gambino's successor Todd Ciaravino, a former chauffeur for Giuliani's ally, Staten Island president Guy Molinari. After Safir became police commissioner, Ciaravino served as an assistant to Safir's chief of staff, Al McNeil, in Safir's office on the 14th floor of One Police Plaza. When Kerik became commissioner last August, Ciaravino was transferred to the Traffic Division, where he never showed up.

While working in Safir's office, Ciaravino became the subject of one of the great cover-ups in recent department history. One day, after McNeil left his licensed loaded gun inside his desk drawer, Ciaravino discovered the gun and, apparently accidentally, shot a hole through the desk.

Although the department dutifully informs the media of all firearms discharges, accidental or otherwise, within police facilities, the department never informed the media of Ciaravino's accidental discharge in Safir's office.

While rumors of the event circulated at the time, it was only last week, following Ciaravino's appointment as the museum's executive director, that the shooting was confirmed to Your Humble Servant.

My Brilliant Career. After but nine months in office, Kerik has bested Safir again. This week, he is to sign a six-figure book deal with Harper-Collins for his life story.

Safir spent the past decade searching for a publisher to tell his life story. The best he could manage, as readers of this column may recall, was, after a dozen publishers turned him down, to have his book proposal relating his life and times as a law school drop-out and federal marshal excerpted in this column.

Sindone's Tale, Con't. An indictment of Dennis Sindone on drug-related federal charges is expected within the next two to three weeks, say sources within and without the NYPD. Sindone, busted from deputy inspector to captain after allegations against him surfaced, is believed to be the department's highest-ranking member ever charged with drug-related crimes.

But the question remains, just what do the feds have on him? Besides a drug dealer holed up in the Metropolitan Correction Center, who accuses Sindone of stealing drug money while serving in a Bronx homicide-narcotics task force six yeas ago, there's a jammed up cop who served with Sindone in the unit who corroborates the drug dealer's story. Internal Affairs had him make "a controlled call" to Sindone last month, congratulating Sindone on his promotion to deputy inspector while trying to get him to incriminate himself. Law enforcement sources acknowledge Sindone gave up nothing in that conversation.

©2001 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.