Howard Safir, the former New York City police commissioner whose four-year tenure in the late 1990s included sharp declines in the city’s murder tolls but also some of its most notorious episodes of police killings of Black men, has died.
Safir’s son told The New York Times his father had died Monday at a hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, from a sepsis infection. He was 81.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner Edward Caban issued a statement extending the department’s condolences and saying that Safir, who held the role from 1996 to 2000, “was a devoted, dynamic leader.”
Safir was named to the NYPD’s top spot by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had appointed him as fire commissioner two years earlier.
But some of the city’s most heated moments of racial tension occurred during Safir’s time in the job as well.
In 1997, police arrested Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, and officers brutalized him in the police precinct. In 1999, four plainclothes officers shot Amadou Diallo, from Guinea, outside his building in the Bronx, thinking his wallet was a weapon.
In 2000, an undercover officer approached Patrick Dorismond, a Black man, in an attempt to buy drugs. After Dorismond took offense, a tussle broke out, and an officer shot and killed him.
The incidents all spurred outrage at the department and its leadership.