June 3, 2013 | Alumni
May 18, 2013
Albert Seedman, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives in the early 1970s who became something of a celebrity as the savvy, cigar-chomping personification of the tough-guy cop while modernizing a tradition-bound force, died on Friday in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 94.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his granddaughter Alison Stiegler said. He lived in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Mr. Seedman oversaw New York City’s 3,000 or so detectives for only 13 months, but he seemed to be everywhere during a tumultuous time.
Three pairs of police officers were shot — four of the officers were killed and two grievously wounded — in ambushes by the Black Liberation Army. The underworld boss Joseph A. Colombo Sr. was shot in the head by a gunman who was himself shot to death seconds later at Mr. Colombo’s Italian-American Day rally in Columbus Circle. The mob leader Joey Gallo was fatally shot at a Little Italy restaurant. Gunmen posing as guests looted 47 safe deposit boxes at the Hotel Pierre.
The Police Department meanwhile faced a major corruption investigation in which Mr. Seedman was briefly caught up before being exonerated.
As chief of detectives from March 1971 to April 1972, he was often the department’s face, pleased to supply a quotation for the press though he might not be telling all.
Stocky and broad-shouldered, invariably chewing on a cigar, he wore white-on-white patterned shirts with “Al” embroidered on the sleeves, sported bejeweled rings on both hands and carried a pearl-handled revolver.
He may have evoked the style of an old-school detective, but he represented the changing ways of law enforcement. He graduated from the City College business school (now Baruch College) in 1941, received graduate degrees in public administration and oversaw what Patrick V. Murphy, the police commissioner who made him chief of detectives, called “the first major change in the force in half a century.”
Mr. Seedman was the prime architect of a major restructuring of the way detectives and patrol officers did their jobs. Instead of catching whatever case came their way at a station house, detectives were assigned to a specialty — perhaps homicides or robberies — while officers on patrol were permitted to investigate some crimes for the first time.
His ascendancy marked a change as well in the department’s aura.
“The Jewish cop was an alien in an Irish universe,” the crime novelist Jerome Charyn wrote in The New York Times in 2004. “Enter Albert Seedman, the first, last and only Jewish chief of detectives. It’s the 1970s and Chief Seedman is all over the place, tough, flamboyant and foul-mouthed, chomping on a cigar, appearing at the scene of important crimes. He seemed more Irish than the Irish, as if he had co-opted their territory, their language, their domain.”
Albert A. Seedman (the middle initial was solely that) was born on Aug. 9, 1918, in the Bronx, the son of a taxi driver. He liked to say that he first thought of becoming a police officer as a stairwell monitor in grade school.
He joined the department in 1942, returned to it after Army service in World War II.
By 1962 he was a captain, but his career almost fell apart over the “perp walk,” in which police officers paraded suspects for the benefit of news photographers.
Mr. Seedman was taking Anthony Dellernia, a suspect in the fatal shooting of two detectives during a Brooklyn tobacco shop robbery, out of a station house when he grabbed Mr. Dellernia under the chin and squeezed his cheek so photographers could see his face. The American Civil Liberties Union demanded that Mr. Seedman be disciplined for using inappropriate force in the interests of publicity.
Commissioner Michael J. Murphy publicly expressed regret about the incident, and Mr. Seedman’s expected promotion to deputy inspector was postponed. Mr. Dellernia was acquitted; two others were convicted.
Mr. Seedman handled high-profile cases even before becoming the detectives chief.
He oversaw the investigation that solved the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder, which had shocked the city when it was reported in the press that 38 neighbors had heard Ms. Genovese’s late-night cries on a Queens street without summoning help.
When he was chief of detectives for the southern half of Brooklyn in 1967, a 17-year-old girl was killed by a bullet fired through an open window of her car as she drove on the Belt Parkway near the ocean.
Mr. Seedman oversaw an investigation in which 2,400 people were interviewed.
Detectives located a gas station owner who had fired a rifle from his fishing boat while taking target practice at a floating beer can. One bullet had evidently ricocheted off the water and gone through the car window. A grand jury ruled the shooting a bizarre accident.
In October 1971, while chief of detectives, Mr. Seedman found his integrity in question.
A few days before the Knapp Commission, appointed by Mayor John V. Lindsay, opened hearings into police corruption, he was transferred out of his post when it was disclosed that he had accepted a free meal from the management of the New York Hilton for himself, his wife and two guests in March 1970. But Commissioner Patrick Murphy reinstated him a few days later.
Mr. Seedman retired in April 1972 to become chief of security for the Alexander’s department store chain.
His resignation came two weeks after Police Officer Philip Cardillo was shot with his own gun during a struggle inside a Nation of Islam mosque in Harlem, having responded to a 911 phone call — later determined to be a ruse — stating that a policeman was in trouble there. Officer Cardillo died of his wounds.
The police had left the mosque abruptly while suspects were still being held there, and no one was ever convicted in the killing.
An internal department report prepared in 1973, but not made public until 1983, found that it was Mr. Seedman who made the decision to allow 16 people being lined up for questioning inside the mosque to go free, under a promise from mosque officials that they would later be made available to the police. They never were. The report attributed the decision to break off the on-site investigation in part to the threat of a riot outside the mosque.
But in an introduction to a 2011 e-book edition of his memoir, “Chief,” Mr. Seedman said he had been ordered to remove the police from the mosque by Chief Inspector Michael Codd because of fears of racial violence. He said it was his anger over that order that compelled him to retire. Mr. Codd later became the police commissioner. He died in 1985.
A 1980 report by a state grand jury cited three police officials as having been derelict in curtailing the investigation, but their names were not made public.
Besides his granddaughter Ms. Stiegler, Mr. Seedman’s survivors include his wife of 43 years, the former Henny Joseph; a daughter, Marilyn Stiegler; two sons, Barry and David; five other grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Mr. Seedman spent his later years in the placid condominium belt of South Florida, but he retained touches of rough-and-tumble New York. He carried a replica of his chief of detectives gold badge. And Jack Kitaeff, author of the 2006 book “Jews in Blue,” said Mr. Seedman told him that in his late 80s he still carried a revolver “in case there is trouble.”
Originally published by The New York Times