Cipher Safir

Forget About It! His Cop Record Is Worse Than His Capers

Two stats explain why Rudy Giuliani is standing by embattled police commissioner Howard Safir. When the mayor fired Safir's predecessor William Bratton in 1996, a Quinnipiac College poll showed that 60 percent of New Yorkers gave the Time magazine cover boy credit for the drop in crime, while only 18 percent credited Giuliani. This Sunday's Daily News/NY 1 poll reverses those numbers, finding that 63 percent see Safir as a "figurehead," with only 21 percent identifying him as his "own man." The overwhelming majority said Giuliani runs the NYPD.

Bratton's approval ratings were at 71 percent when Giuliani, leaking penny-ante scoops about his travel expenses and book contract, forced his resignation. In the latest poll, only 30 percent approve of Safir's "personal conduct," with just 44 percent saying he should "stay" as commissioner. Pollster Judy Blum says that Safir gets low approval numbers across all ethnic and income lines, yet the mayor defends him, citing the plummeting crime figures during Safir's three-year term.

City Council Public Safety Committee chair Sheldon Leffler, whose oversight of the NYPD has been the only consistent spotlight into a world darkened by the routine denial of public information, says he cannot think of a single successful "new anticrime initiative" of the Safir years. All Safir cites himself is the beefing up of the narcotics task forces targeting certain neighborhoods, a strategy launched first in the 1980s by Commissioner Ben Ward, abandoned as an arrest-rich failure, and reformulated by Bratton on his way out. Not even Safir has attempted to make any real connection between the drug strategy and the decline before and after it of the seven major index felonies, which do not include drug crimes.

The caretaker commish: a poor imitation of Bratton
Fred W. Mcdarrah
The caretaker commish: a poor imitation of Bratton

Eli Silverman, a John Jay College professor whose 203-page paean to the administration, NYPD Battles Crime, will be released in June, praises in his foreword the cooperation he got from Safir, who Silverman says "embodies the department motto of 'courtesy, professionalism and respect.' " Though Silverman's thank-you to the departed Bratton is more muted (and he even momentarily tries to portray the ex- commissioner as a fabricator midway through the uncorrected galley of his book), his success-story chronology rests entirely on the Compstat strategies developed by Bratton that Safir merely continued.

Silverman says he attended more than 100 of the otherwise sealed-off sessions of Compstat, during which precinct commanders are forced to account for any crime increases in their neighborhoods, and highly sophisticated computer and pin-map tracking are used to make tactical and deployment decisions to combat those surges. Aside from Compstat, Silverman's conclusory chapter only cites one other factor in the triumph over crime— "the strong political support" from Giuliani, which he says was "a sine qua non" for NYPD success. Strangely, he never even attempts to square that praise with the mayor's duplicitous dumping of the very commissioner who devised the strategies he salutes.

As devoted as Silverman is to Safir, his book is the best evidence of his friend's uninspired record. The closest Silverman comes to citing a single Safir achievement is his account of the antidrug initiative called SATCOM (Strategic and Tactical Command) in Brooklyn North, which he concedes was "conceived during the tenure of one commissioner" but "implemented" under another.

Though Silverman never explicitly blames Safir for the late 1996­1997 decisions to neither continue nor replicate the SATCOM game plan, he mysteriously attributes its virtual abandonment to a "blend of bureaucratic sparring, managerial vision, changeable values, and shifting standards." This obscure critique appears to be Silverman's way of saying that Safir and Giuliani wanted to launch the subsequent Manhattan-based antinarcotics war without "acknowledging" what Silverman calls its "lineage," which was clearly Bratton's SATCOM.

With nothing better than a custodial crime-fighting record, Safir's tenure has been marked by an abundance of evidence that his perpetually somber face is a window to a "lightweight," the name tag first tossed at him by Bratton's chief of the department, John Timoney. A Voice review of virtually every measure of the competence and efficiency of Safir's department, run past Leffler the night before Safir appeared at the Council's Monday hearing on the infamous Street Crime Unit, found him wanting again and again.

For example, only 36,000 of the 130,000 felony arrests in 1998 led to indictments, a scant 27 percent, the lowest in decades. That's down from nearly 32 percent in Bratton's final year, and 38 percent under David Dinkins's 1993 commissioner Ray Kelly. No less a nonpartisan than Michael Jacobson, another John Jay professor who was probation commissioner under Dinkins and corrections commissioner under Giuliani, reviewed these figures in a recent study, concluding that they are "evidence of a diminution in the seriousness of the felony arrests." Leffler agrees with that assessment, adding that "we shouldn't be arresting people who don't even get indicted" but that "well-founded arrests have not been a concern of theirs."

The decline in the number of cops on patrol (patrol strength) and police 911 response time, the two most frequently cited measures of department efficiency prior to Giuliani, are a direct result of the decision to drain cops out of precincts and into specialized units. Leffler contends that with almost 9000 more cops than prior to 1994, the city has a right "to expect a better output" when citizens summon assistance, as well as when they are looking for an officer out on beat.

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