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Police Commissioner Howard Safir Resigns After Four Years at Helm

By John J. Goldman
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- NEW YORK

Howard Safir, whose leadership of New York’s Police Department was marked by plummeting crime rates and racial incidents that drew national attention, announced Tuesday he is resigning as commissioner.

“I am leaving probably the best job that any human being could have,” he told a City Hall news conference with, as usual, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at his side. “Crime is the lowest it’s been in three decades.”

The mayor, who will lose one of his closest confidants, praised Safir as the city’s “greatest police commissioner.”

Unlike his predecessor, William J. Bratton, who sought the media spotlight, Safir’s loyalty to the mayor was complete.

The two stood shoulder-to-shoulder during investigations of the police station house torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, the killing of Amadou Diallo in a barrage of 41 police bullets and the slaying by an undercover detective of Patrick Dorismond. In the shooting incidents, neither victim was armed.

“So many men and women of this police department do an outstanding job day in and day out,” Safir said, warning against criticism of the entire 41,000-member force because of “three horrible incidents.

“I think the perception and the reality are very far apart,” he said.

The 58-year-old Safir, who like Giuliani is being treated for prostate cancer, will join Choice Point, a corporate security company.

Giuliani declined to discuss a successor, concentrating instead on praising Safir for his 25 years in law enforcement.

“I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that under this commissioner, crime is down more than any other commissioner in the history of the city,” Giuliani said.

During Safir’s four years at police headquarters, homicides declined from 2,245 in 1990 to 671 last year. Major crimes also dropped, but critics charged at a price: the civil rights of some residents, particularly in poor inner-city neighborhoods.

The U.S. Civil Rights Commission earlier this year in a critical report said it appeared some anti-crime units engaged in racial profiling.

In a similar report, New York State Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer charged that blacks and Latinos are stopped more often and searched by police officers.

At his news conference, Safir defended the department’s record in minority neighborhoods.

The commissioner said when he visits Harlem, the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and Jamaica in Queens “and I meet with 200 to 300 people of color, they don’t tell me they don’t like the police, and the police are abusing them.”