One Police Plaza

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Howard and Rudy: Professional Amnesia

January 11, 2010

Former police commissioner Howard Safir must still feel he is above the law — and exempt from telling the truth.

He must have forgotten Rule Number One for law enforcement officials: nobody is above the law, not even Rudy Giuliani’s top cop.

As startling as it might seem, Safir backed his sport utility vehicle into a pregnant woman on the Upper East Side last Friday, then drove away, the police said.

As reported by police bureau chief Al Baker of the Times, which broke the story, the pregnant woman, 30-year-old Joanne Valarezo, was not knocked down or seriously injured. [She was treated and released at Cornell Medical Center.] Her unborn child was apparently unharmed.

Valarezo told police that Safir had been double-parked on Third Avenue and struck her while backing up his black 2009 Cadillac Escalade SUV. She said a female passenger inside the SUV — presumably Safir’s wife, Carol — shouted at the driver, “Are you not looking? There’s someone there.”

After Safir’s SUV struck her, Valarezo said she confronted the driver — whom she didn’t recognize — saying, “I’m pregnant, Did you not see?”

Safir, she said, “disregarded that and kept going.”

But Valarezo jotted down his license plate number, enabling detectives from the 19th precinct to track him down for questioning. They accepted Safir’s word that was unaware he had hit anybody, and concluded there was no criminality.

So who exactly signed off on giving Safir a pass?

Was it a detective at the scene?

Was it a supervisor?

Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne didn’t return an email seeking an answer.

God knows, there is no love lost between Safir, who now runs a private security business, and current Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Although Kelly attended Safir’s swearing-in ceremony at City Hall in 1996 and gave him personnel suggestions, Safir snubbed him.

You snub Kelly at your peril. When Kelly returned as police commissioner after 9/11, he refused to take Safir’s phone calls. Safir was told that, if he wanted to see Kelly, he had to write a letter.

Maybe allowing Safir to skate for hitting Valarezo was just institutional courtesy.

If so, it will only perpetuate Safir’s conviction that he is above the law and doesn’t have to tell the truth.

Back in 1991, when he was at the U.S. Marshals Service in Washington, Safir was interviewed on CBS’s “Sixty Minutes.” Sounding like a character from a juvenile adventure tale, he intoned, “There is no hunting like the hunting of armed men, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it never wish to do anything else thereafter.”

When Sixty Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft asked him whether his actions violated the law, Safir responded, “The kind of things that I did are not exactly what diplomats do.”

Kroft persisted. Were there objections from the State Department and the FBI? “They’re politicians,” scoffed Safir. “That’s what they do is worry about official repercussions. I’m not a politician. I’m a cop.”

As Giuliani’s top cop for four years, Safir acted as Rudy’s resident tough guy, disdainful of the law and oblivious to public opinion, most notably during crises like the fatal shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 police bullets.

Summoned to a Monday morning City Council hearing on the case, Safir pleaded a “scheduling conflict.” It turned out he had secretly flown to Hollywood the previous Friday for the Oscars. On Sunday, the night before the Council hearing, television cameras caught him hobnobbing on the red carpet next to actress Helen Hunt.

Giuliani ordered him home on the red-eye to make the hearing the next morning.

Adding to Safir’s blunder, it turned out he had also accepted a free plane flight to the Oscars, and free stay at a four-star hotel from Revlon’s CEO, George Fellows.

After a year of prompting by Your Humble Servant, Safir reimbursed Fellows $7,100 — the estimated cost of his Oscar excursion.

Safir was also less than honest about a car accident involving his wife. On Jan 31, 1997, Carol Safir was rear-ended while driving on the Queensborough Bridge. Two years later, she filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the driver, claiming the accident had caused her “loss of consortium” — in English, that it was now too painful to have sexual relations with her husband.

Safir was also named in the lawsuit because of his loss of consortium with his injured wife. He sought $250,000.

Questioned by reporters, he dummied up, claiming Carol had filed the lawsuit “without my knowledge.”

At his next news briefing, Your Humble Servant brought a bible. Before Safir began to speak, he was asked to place his hand on it and swear to tell the truth. His face turned red. “The only one who lies here, Mr. Levitt,” he sputtered, “is you.”

Safir’s latest car accident might prove more serious.

According to a police source, causing personal injury and leaving the scene of an accident is a misdemeanor under The Vehicle and Traffic Law [VTL].

Did the detectives or their supervisors consult with the office of newly elected Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. before allowing him to skate?

Vance’s spokeswoman says the matter “is under review.”

. Last week, Safir’s rabbi, Rudy Giuliani, also seemed to forget how to conduct himself in public. Let’s start with his now-famous remark that there was no terrorism attack on the U.S. under President George Bush. Let’s assume, as his spokeswoman now says, he meant no terrorism attack after 9/11, which was eight months into Bush’s first term. And let’s assume that he forgot about shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a Miami-bound American Airlines flight in December 2001.

The fact remains that George Bush lied this country into a war in Iraq with false claims of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

It remains a war that Rudy — and his police commissioner after Safir, Bernard Kerik — never shut up about supporting.

The fact also remains that Giuliani, against the advice of many of his advisors, appointed Kerik, his former bodyguard, as the city’s 40th police commissioner, pushed for Kerik’s appointment to Iraq to train that country’s police, and pushed again for Kerik’s appointment as Homeland Security Director. As all the world knows, Kerik is now headed to the slammer for bribery and conspiracy.

Finally, the fact remains that, as a 2008 presidential candidate, Giuliani got but one Republican delegate’s vote. Yes, he was truly great in the days, weeks and months after 9/11, but what he is spouting now makes little sense.

Memo from Your Humble Servant: Rudy, leave us alone and make up with your children.

Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt