Former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir has passed away. During his four-year term in the late 1990s, the city’s murder rate saw a substantial reduction, but Safir also presided over some of the most infamous instances of black males being killed by police.
The New York Times was informed by Safir’s son that his father passed away on Monday from a sepsis infection at a hospital in Annapolis, Maryland.
He was 81. Safir, who served in the position from 1996 to 2000, was remembered in a statement by the current commissioner of the New York Police Department, Edward Caban, as “a devoted, dynamic leader.”
Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had nominated Safir as fire commissioner two years previously, promoted him to the top position in the NYPD.
Safir replaced William Bratton, who had implemented policing strategies that had been successful in reducing the number of murders each year but who resigned after developing a rift with Giuliani.
Safir continued to see a decline in the murder rate; there were less than 700 murders the year he departed his position, down from more than 1,100 the year before. But Safir’s tenure in the position coincided with some of the most tense racial tension incidents in the city.
Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was brutally treated by police when they detained him in a police station in 1997.
Amadou Diallo, a Guinean man, was slain outside his Bronx apartment building in 1999 by four plainclothes officers who mistook his wallet for a weapon.
A black man named Patrick Dorismond was approached by a covert officer in 2000 in an effort to buy drugs.
A fight ensued after Dorismond retaliated, and an officer shot and killed him. Outrage against the department and its leadership was sparked by each incident.
In 2000, Safir, a Jew, told The Jewish Week that he was happy to have contributed to dispelling any misconceptions about Jews in law enforcement.
He claimed that his faith never came up at work.