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Scarcity of blacks among top cops

December 2, 1996

Joe Leake, one of the NYPD's two highest ranking black police officers, is retiring after 35 years. His departure leaves the department with an even greater paucity of top black officers.

Leake, the courtly three-star Housing Bureau chief, is the second black chief to retire this year. Only three remain, and the positions of two are precarious.

Deputy Chief Paul Sanderson is fighting his way back to police life after the fiery Chief of Department Louis Anemone shelved him in the office of Wilbur Chapman, the chief of patrol. Chapman, the department's highest ranking black officer, is also fighting for his police life with Anemone.

So glaring is the scarcity of black chiefs that when earlier this year Anemone bumped Chief Benny Foster from Brooklyn North and also dumped him under Chapman, all the department's black chiefs but Leake worked out of the same office. People at Police Plaza began calling the chief of patrol's office The Ghetto.

Despite City Hall's professed support for Hispanic officers - whose numbers now exceed those of blacks - Hispanic chiefs fare no better than black chiefs. There are only three, one of whom is in disfavor in part because of perceived ties to mayoral rival Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. A second is said never to have been considered Hispanic until his promotion to chief a year ago.

Leake, who turns 58 this month, cited no specifics for his departure, but he'd been treading water since the early days of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's term. Then, as Manhattan North borough commander, he upset the mayor by following police procedure and negotiating with - rather than arresting - members of a Harlem mosque, after a brawl between cops and congregants left eight cops injured.

The police had responded to a false report of a robbery at the mosque, where two decades before a cop answering a similar false report had been shot to death. Many saw the racially charged incident as a test of the new mayor's resolve.

A year later, the mayor passed over Leake for chief of department, the highest uniformed position. Ex-Police Commissioner William Bratton had proposed Leake, who would have succeeded the retiring First Deputy Commissioner Dave Scott as the department's highest ranking black officer. But Giuliani anounced he favored "Lou" Anemone, as he called him, who was also supported by the head of the powerful Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"It was the first time the mayor realized he could assert himself in the promotions of police officers," a Bratton aide noted recently. As Bratton came to realize, it was not the last.

Printable versionSeduced and Abandoned? Former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who first whispered to Bratton around the time his troubles with Giuliani surfaced that his Boston accent would not impede his becoming mayor, appears to have cooled on the ex-police commissioner.

Last week, Koch said that he wouldn't support Bratton in a Democratic primary, despite the fact that Bratton ran better than all other Democrats in a recent Quinnipiac College poll and that front-runner City Comptroller Alan Hevesi dropped out.

Koch said he had dinner about six months ago with Bratton and some of his closest friends, including Bratton's flamboyant crime strategist Jack Maple. "They asked me if I would become one of his supporters," Koch said. "I said no. There is no reason for me to pick Bratton over the others."

He Mistook a Question for a Hat. Police Commissioner Howard Safir likes to say he doesn't believe anything he reads in the newspapers. The question is, can people believe anything he says at news briefings.

Ditto for his pal Giuliani.

Let's begin with Safir's statement at One Police Plaza last Monday that he and Giuliani were planning to travel to the Dominican Republic this month in their quest to extradite fugitives, despite howls of protest from that country's president. Two days later, the mayor announced at City Hall that not only wasn't he going, but that he'd never said he was.

"I didn't say I was going . . . I have never planned to go . . . I don't plan to go," the mayor said.

(Actually, on Nov. 21, the Dominican consul general in New York told Newsday and El Diario newspaper that Giuliani planned a visit on Dec. 2.)

Asked Friday at a joint news conference with the mayor at the Police Academy whether his trip was still on in light of the mayor's disavowal, Safir answered, "Nice hat."

Asked about the on-again, off-again trip, Safir's inscrutable press secretary, Marilyn Mode, said, "I have nothing for you."

Asked whether that constitued a "no," she said, "Infer what you will, I am not implying anything."

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© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.