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
Somebody, however, is
going to have to risk these slurs, if only on behalf of 82-year-old widows.