Here’s the Naked Truth About Strip Searches

After Mayor Giuliani delivers his memoir to Talk Miramax and

begins work on his advice book for managers, no doubt he will wish to avoid the

subject of how policies put into place during his administration cost his

enterprise-i.e., the city-at least $50 million in court-ordered payments to

non-perps who were strip-searched while in police custody. The loss of $50

million for no good reason may not mean much in politics and government, but

Mr. Giuliani’s target audience-flinty-eyed bottom-liners always looking for new

ways to cut costs and hike profits-may find this business a tad disturbing.

One could be forgiven for

thinking that the policy of strip-searching those suspected of minor offenses

had been quietly abandoned in light of the embarrassment it caused. A

class-action lawsuit on behalf of about 65,000 citizens illegally

strip-searched during the Giuliani years was settled in early January, with the

city agreeing to fork over $50 million in damages to the aggrieved citizens.

The settlement came some time after news organizations  revealed that strip-searches had become a

routine tactic in the war on crime.

Shame, however, is not a

quality associated with City Hall. A day after the city agreed to dip into the

treasury for a spare $50 million, an 82-year-old widow in Brooklyn was hauled

into the criminal-justice system and subjected to a strip search. According to

news reports, the perp-victim was ordered to drop her skirt, and then had to

lift her sweater. The police deny the woman’s allegations.

The woman, Mary Novak,

told the press that she felt “humiliated,” but she said nothing to her

tormentors because “I thought, ‘I’d better behave or they’ll do more things to

me.'” Ah, what better evidence of the great change that has taken place in New

York since 1993! Where once 82-year-old widows could misbehave in the most

egregious ways with no consequence, now they know the days of mollycoddling are

over. No more excuses, Grandma: If you misbehave, well, we can do things to

you. We have ways of making you behave, Grandma.

Ms. Novak is now suing

the city for $1 million. And why not?

Unfortunately, this administration seems to regard cash

payments to violated citizens as the cost of doing business, in the same way

that the Defense Department doesn’t get overly excited about $1,000 toilet

seats. There is no sense of shame, and certainly no expression of regret. If we

want a safe city, well, liberty has a price. And so, when four Fordham

University students were busted for trying to get a two-for-one deal at a

subway turnstile a couple of years ago, they were not simply given a ticket for

the stupid prank, but brought to a station house and ordered to get naked.

That’ll show ’em. The city later paid them $25,000 apiece, but changed nothing.

At his State of the City

speech, Mr. Giuliani spoke admiringly of the work of Operation Condor, which

targets small-time drug dealers and, inevitably, their customers. He spoke of

building on Condor’s successes in this, his last year in office. A friend of

mine became a Condor statistic last year when he was caught in a police sweep

of the East Village. A first-time offender caught with a small amount of

marijuana, he was transported to the local station house along with other

small-timers and first-timers, and soon they all knew much more about each

other than they wished to know.

The candidates to succeed Mr. Giuliani no doubt will tread

carefully in the matter of law enforcement. If they believe, as one suspects

they do, that there are better ways to maintain a safe city, they will offer

their critiques very carefully. Thus does the ghost of the Dinkins

administration haunt this year’s Mayoral election. None of the Democratic

contenders wishes to be seen as the man who will return New York to the

lawlessness of the early 1990’s, when 2,000 people a year met a violent end.

Still, somebody ought to

have the courage to say that we do not have to strip-search 82-year-old widows;

that elderly women should not have to fear the police; that we can continue to

fight the bad guys without violating the rights of innocents.

The incumbent Mayor may not be willing to satisfy police

salary demands, but he’s more than happy to exploit police paranoia. Like many

officers, Mr. Giuliani cheerfully equates criticism of the police with advocacy

for criminals. He will be delighted to label any or all of his would-be

successors anti-police.

Somebody, however, is

going to have to risk these slurs, if only on behalf of 82-year-old widows. Here’s the Naked Truth About Strip Searches