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Big 8 questions get no answers

May 12, 1997

Last week, a reporter asked Deputy Inspector Mike Collins where a detective assigned to Police Commissioner Howard Safir's detail had been transferred. The answer was on the tip of Collins' tongue when Collins' boss, Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Marilyn Mode, strode into his office and silenced him by announcing to the reporter, "I have nothing for you."

Mode is Safir's personal hire. She joined the police department last April, when Safir became commissioner, at a salary of $83,354. This was $23,000 more than she'd earned two years before when she held a similar position with the fire department, where Safir was fire commissioner. Since moving to the NYPD, she has received raises totaling $17,000. She is now paid $100,730 to not provide public information.

Here now is a list of eight questions she refuses to answer, questions that define Safir's commissionership.

1. How many officers work in the office of Public Information? In February, 1995, after a profile in the New Yorker magazine praised ex-commissioner William Bratton as the architect of a revamped NYPD but barely mentioned Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor forced the resignation of Bratton's spokesman John Miller and ordered the transfers of all public information officers. He then cut their number by two-thirds, saying more officers belonged on the streets. Since Safir has become commissioner, the number seems to have grown to its previous size.

2. Where was Safir the night of the Empire State Building shooting Feb. 23, when a deranged gunman shot seven people, including one fatally? Mode has said only that Safir was "in the area" at the time. Why, then, did it take him three hours to reach the crime scene?

3. Why did Safir not inform his executive staff he was about to undergo bypass surgery March 7? Why were they summoned to a briefing late in the day only after news reporters began asking questions?

4. Who made the decision to disinvite ex-commissioner Bratton to this week's Comstat crime strategy conference that he invented? Initial statements by the department and the Police Foundation, which is arranging the conference, said it was open to anyone who paid $385. After Bratton, who now heads a security firm, sent in his check, the police department announced the conference was open only to law enforcement personnel.

5. Why has Safir refused to publicly reprimand Chief of Department Louis Anemone for his expletive-filled attack on mayoral fund raiser Howard Koeppel for sitting in the wrong pew at a police funeral? How does Safir justify his silence in light of his campaign for Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect?

Printable version6. Why did Safir say he had no knowledge of the "nest of perjury" referred to by Bronx State Supreme Court Judge Gerald Sheindlin, who acquitted ex-Police Officer Francis X. Livoti of killing Anthony Baez after a 1994 argument over a touch football game? At a City Hall news conference earlier this year, Safir announced that any cop who lied at trial or to a superior would be dismissed. But although medical experts testified that the department-banned choke-hold that Livoti used on Baez lasted more than a minute, five cops who say they witnessed the entire struggle say they never saw it. Instead, some testified they saw a mysterious pair of "black hands" reach in and strangle Baez.

(No apparent help here from the Bronx district attorney's office, whose spokesman Steven Reed says the matter is "under review" by three top office officials.)

7. Where is Livoti's missing CCRB file number 84-2592 - one of six substantiated force complaints against him? Baez family attorneys are seeking the file in their civil suit against the city. The incident occurred in 1984, the year Livoti joined the NYPD, and raises questions about why he wasn't flagged back then. Last week, Elizabeth Gross of the Corporation Counsel's office told Judge Douglas McKeon, who is presiding over the civil suit, "I gave you every piece of paper they the police department said they had."

8. Has the department for the past year kept a log of top police officials' ingoing and outgoing telephone calls to members of the media? One chief says the belief is so pervasive it might as well be true. "Everyone feels that if you talk to a reporter it is safer to use a pay phone."

Safir has refused to hold a single "in-house" news conference with reporters based at Police Plaza - a regular event with Bratton - since he banned a Daily News reporter nearly a year ago. Although he allows reporters to question him after events, he stalks off whenever he's asked a question he doesn't want to answer.

Mode has been asked several of these questions over the past year. All of them were asked again on Saturday. To each, she answered: "I have nothing for you."

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1997 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.