With crime down 55 percent over the past six years and the streets of New York sufficiently scrubbed of squeegee men, street vendors, performers, aggressive homeless, prostitutes, porno shops, protesting cabbies, and protruding newsstands, good arrests are mathematically harder to come by. Perhaps that’s why the NYPD has now turned its efforts abroad – to a city that resembles New York before quality-of-life crackdowns became commonplace.
Earlier this month, NYPD deputy chief of personnel Tom Sweeney and Inspector Thomas Belfiore, commanding officer of the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct, were transferred to Lagos, Nigeria. The cops went on a seven-day tour of duty – albeit classroom duty – paid for by the State Department, according to Nicole Theriot, an assistant information officer at the U.S. embassy in Lagos, who says the NYPD was chosen because Lagos, a multicultural city of 8 million, bears a striking resemblance to New York – at least in the old days. “You have a lot of similar crimes,” she notes. “Theft, carjacking, armed robbery.”
“We got a communication from FBI headquarters saying that we should provide two FBI agents and two NYPD people to conduct a school in Lagos for approximately 30 Nigerian law-enforcement people,” explains Joe Valiquette, an FBI spokesman in New York. “As far as we know, this was the NYPD’s first foray abroad.” The NYPD refused to comment on the trip.
Sweeney and Belfiore – who was selected for the mission because of his experience as an internal-affairs officer in 1994’s notorious “Dirty 30” case, in which 33 cops were found guilty of making illegal arrests, perjury, taking bribes from dealers, and stealing and selling drugs in Harlem’s 30th Precinct – instructed the Nigerians in a “police-science seminar.” Topics covered included police corruption, raids, how to deal with informants, deadly-force policy, and, Valiquette adds with a laugh, “interrogation and all that kind of thing.”
Criminals should benefit, says Karl Maier, a former Nigeria-based correspondent for The Independent of London and author of the forthcoming This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria. “There are a lot of drug and crime syndicates, and Nigerian interrogation generally consists of beating the crap out of somebody,” he observes. “Nigerian police don’t know how to investigate – they just lock you up, as in Casablanca: ‘Round up the usual suspects.’ It makes New York’s Finest look pristine.”
“Right now,” agrees Theriot, “the Nigerian police have free rein to do what they will.” In that light, even recent events in New York might have a place in the seminar. According to Theriot, a course in the “emotional survival of officers” is already part of the curriculum.