New York

Cipher Safir


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.

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 implementedunder 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.

Leffler says that the nearly $149 million in overtime this year is an indicator of Safir’s failure to manage, as is the department’s ineptitude in setting up the new 911 dispatch and backup computerized systems. That $156 million venture fell flat on its face in February, when a shutdown of the system contributed to the death of a 41-year-old heart attack victim. Together with many other members of the council, Leffler is particularly disturbed about the department’s continuing resistance to replacing deskbound cops with civilians, claiming that the usage of far cheaper civilian employees is less than it was a decade ago.

Similarly, the council’s finance staff recently released a devastating analysis of staffing patterns in the department, showing that only 58 percent of the force is assigned to precincts, with a 14 percent increase in uniformed executive management positions since April 1997, as well as a 15 percent jump in cops doing administrative work at headquarters. Safir is so mesmerized by his narcotics pushes that he’s added 1146 cops to that unit, while even the detective bureaus lost as many as 90 officers. Contrary to the clear-cut language of the mergers with the transit and housing police, there are 2296 fewer cops patroling subways and projects than in 1995, Bratton’s last full year.

While Safir and Giuliani have made national news highlighting their lifesaving DWI strategy, the NYPD’s most recent Complaints & Arrests report shows that DWI arrests declined by 15.4 percent between 1995 and 1997. Drug arrests rose under Bratton, but dropped by 1997. With as much as Safir makes of weapons arrests, his 1997 total was 38.3 percent less than the record-breaking total in Dinkins’s last year. That figure had started to fall under Bratton.

A statue at every Blue Room press conference, Safir, who went out of his way to assail a Giuliani mayoral opponent in the 1997 election, has long seen his mission as more cheerleader than commander, more loyalist than leader. It’s not just his Oscar and wedding tux, or his wife’s fender bender, that are raising questions about his judgment. It’s his service itself.

Research: Camila Gamboa, Coco McPherson, Kandea Mosley, Soo-Min Oh, Ron Zapata

Safir’s Sad Stats


Effectiveness Measures: (1993)
(1997*or 1998**)

Indictments after felony arrests



Citywide 911 response time
8 min.

7.7 min.

9.8 min.**

Patrol strength/uniformed cops (fiscal year)



Weapons arrests



Overtime (fiscal year)
$112.3 mil.

$96.2 mil.

$148.9 mil.**

Drug felony arrests



Civilian employees (fiscal year)



Safir data include housing and transit police; 1993 and 1995 data do not.

Citystate Quote:

“I read the polls and I
understand political
sentiment, and my strength is actually outside the City
of New York.”
— Mayor Rudy Giuliani, on his chances of being elected senator, Newsday, April 19

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