Monday, March 07, 2011

Rabbi wearing a badge not a police officer 

Behind the wheel of his dark-colored SUV, Bernard Freilich could pass for a cop.

In fact, people close to Freilich say at times he's presented himself as one.

His black GMC is equipped with flashing emergency lights, a police radio, siren, a State Police placard on the dashboard and special license plates that say "official."

In his pocket Freilich carries a State Police employee-identification card, and occasionally he wears a gold State Police badge on a lanyard that hangs from his neck. But where he got the badge is anyone's guess.

Freilich is not a police officer. He's a rabbi paid $100,730 annually as a politically appointed State Police "special assistant," a job he's had since Gov. George Pataki gave him the title in March 1995. Freilich's job, in part, is to serve as a "community liaison" to the Hasidic Jewish community, according to a job description on file with State Police.

But in a period of government austerity some are questioning whether Freilich, 59, is a necessary asset to the State Police. Meanwhile, in a Brooklyn neighborhood where Freilich lives, his police-like credentials have sparked allegations he parks illegally and harassed motorists who believed he was a cop.

Since being appointed during Pataki's inaugural year, Freilich has held his job through the administrations of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo's father, Mario, first assigned a rabbi to the State Police payroll, but Andrew Cuomo has pledged to stem unnecessary hiring. Some former troopers said Freilich's job should get a hard look.

"He shows up, but it's really just to keep people from saying he isn't around," said State Police Lt. Keith Forte, who retired from the agency last August after a 25-year career. "This guy's sole purpose is to put forth a face for the Jewish community, and he has no real purpose with the State Police."

Forte was in charge of recruiting troopers. He worked with Freilich at the State Police's New York City headquarters on Randall's Island. Forte said he believes Freilich has kept his job because "in a nutshell, he gets votes for the governor."

"It's a political position," Forte said. "They always appoint a liaison to the State Police, and that person's job is to handle all Jewish-related affairs in the areas where Hasidic families reside ... but why is the Catholic priest or my reverend or my pastor not part of the State Police like this guy? No one else's community gets that same respect."

Aside from Freilich's murky job duties there are allegations he may have, on occasion, acted as if he were a trooper.

State Police officials said last week they did not issue Freilich a badge. Freilich said they gave it to him in 1995. The agency has a policy against issuing so-called "honorary" badges.

A former State Police superintendent, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the State Police would not have issued Freilich a badge. The badge Freilich wears is blank where there are normally serial numbers indicative of an authentic shield that's unique to each sworn trooper.


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