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Undercover officers voice safety concerns in Astoria

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A small army of undercover cops walked the streets of Astoria Friday morning gathering support for a City Council investigation that they say is needed to protect their safety.

The more than four dozen officers were seeking signatures for a petition demanding a hearing on alleged safety breaches within the New York Police Department which they contend put their lives in danger.

NYPD Det. Richard Tamayo led the petition drive two weeks after filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court that claims supervisors regularly violate safety regulations designed to protect undercover officers.

“Lives are at risk,” said Tamayo, a 12-year veteran who served as an undercover officer for more than two years. “We understand it’s a dangerous job and we understand we can get hurt, but that’s why we depend on the safety guidelines to be maintained.”

Lt. Brian Burke, an NYPD spokesman, said he could not comment about pending litigation but defended the department’s record.

“Safety is of paramount importance and we are consistently and routinely assessing safety and new procedures to ensure the safety of all members of the New York City Police Department,” Burke said.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that the department violates safety regulations by conducting undercover operations with too few personnel, performing inadequate safety checks on equipment and failing to use the equipment necessary to protect officers.

It also charges that the department failed to comply with health regulations limiting smoking within the workplace and even retaliated against officers who complained about it.

Raymond Ragues, the attorney representing Tamayo and 20 other officers who signed onto the suit, also charged in an interview Monday that supervisors are motivated by the financial rewards of overtime pay.

“The undercover officers are being pimped by the supervisors to go out and make arrests, disregarding safety regulations, in order to bring in the bodies and get overtime,” Ragues said.

He said the suit aims to resolve the safety issues.

“We’re demanding that they comply with their own safety guidelines and treat the undercover officers with the respect they deserve.”

As 50 officers roamed Astoria’s streets to collect signatures requesting an investigation, Tamayo stood Friday at his own perch outside the offices of City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), whom he is lobbying to organize hearings to look into the complaints.

But Vallone, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said Monday that Tamayo had yet to set up an appointment to discuss his concerns with him.

“There are many issues involved here, some of which need further investigat­ion,” Vallone said. “I have been in contact with the appropriate people on this and I’m looking into it.”

Vallone said he would consider holding a hearing but added that the issue is complicated by the litigation.

“It’s always difficult to have a hearing when there is a lawsuit pending because of legal issues involved,” he said. “The Police Department won’t testify when there’s an ongoing court matter.”

Tamayo said it is imperative that the City Council take the lead because officers fear repercussions when they voice their grievances within the department.

“They want to know that they’re standing on solid ground before (coming forward), they want to know the City Council will be conducting these hearings,” he said. “ If it’s to go before a commissioner or a chief, they’re afraid that their jobs will be jeopardized.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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