New York police chief resigns to work for corporate security firm

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The Independent US

The Chief of the New York Police Department, commissioner Howard Safir, is leaving the job, and the city, to move into the private sector. Mr Safir, whose departure is set for the end of the month, presided over a big fall in crime in the city, but his four-year tenure was also marked by bitter racial conflicts and a series of ugly incidents involving officers under his command.

The Chief of the New York Police Department, commissioner Howard Safir, is leaving the job, and the city, to move into the private sector. Mr Safir, whose departure is set for the end of the month, presided over a big fall in crime in the city, but his four-year tenure was also marked by bitter racial conflicts and a series of ugly incidents involving officers under his command.

Mr Safir, 58, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May and some attributed his resignation to his illness. The New York Times reported yesterday that he was joining ChoicePoint, a corporate security company based in Atlanta, which specialises, among other things, in DNA testing. Expanding the use of DNA tests to clear up crimes was a pet cause of his tenure at the NYPD.

Mr Safir's greatest achievement was to have continued the fall in crime, especially violent crime, that began under the"zero tolerance" policies of his predecessor, the tough and ebullient William Bratton. Although the number of murders increased slightly last year, crime overall remains at its lowest level for 30 years.

His first year in office was marred by the rape and beating of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, by a white officer in a city police station. Last year saw the killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant, who was shot 41 times in the hallway of his apartment block by plain clothes police who mistakenly identified him as a wanted rapist and his wallet as a gun. The police officers involved were subsequently acquitted of any crime. And in March an unarmed security guard was shot dead by an undercover detective in a case that has yet to come to court.

The first two incidents triggered street protests by New Yorkers, claiming endemicracism in the force. The protests were supported by some prominent public figures and embarrassed the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, at a time when he was gearing up his (now abandoned) run for the US Senate.

Mr Safir, New York's first Jewish police commissioner, is a longtime associate of Mr Giuliani. The two had worked together when they held government posts in Washington. When Mr Giuliani was elected mayor, he chose Mr Safir to be his fire commissioner. He transferred to the police department two years later, in 1996, when Mr Bratton resigned. Mr Safir's closeness to Mr Giuliani led to charges that he was his "puppet".

The mayor, who is coincidentally also being treated for prostate cancer, now has the task of choosing a successor to Mr Safir. Among those tipped for the high-profile job are Joseph Dunne, chief of the New York Police Department, Nicholas Scoppetta, and Bernard Kerik, both already department heads in the NYPD.

The name of John Timoney, the Philadelphia police chief, whose handling of protests during last week's Republican convention attracted wide praise, has also been mentioned. Mr Timoney was Mr Bratton's deputy. Philadelphia, however, is concerned to keep him, and he has given no indication of being interested in a move.

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