Effort to promote citywide neighborhood patrol program gets off to slow start locally
Several pizza boxes laid unopened on a table just inside the entrance of the Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School Auditorium at 455 Southern Boulevard. Fewer than a dozen community members trickled in and sat in the first two rows inside a space that could easily seat hundreds.
“You guys better eat more pizza because it looks like there’s going to be a lot left over,” said Sgt. Andrew Jackson of the 40th Precinct. “That’s why we came in here, we thought we would have the whole auditorium ready to be packed.”
Jackson, the supervising Neighborhood Coordinating Officer, or NCO, for the 40th Precinct, was hoping for a better showing. More than 90,000 live in an area from the banks of the Harlem and East Rivers to 161st St. to the north—an area that about 300 officers in the 4-0 patrol.
Jackson led the community safety meeting alongside another NCO, Michael Nesto, and three other patrol officers. The meeting was one of four that they helped organize in September. The Gompers High School event addressed issues in Sector A, encompassing an area on the precinct’s eastern and southern boundaries.
The few who did attend complained about a preponderance of used syringes and needles being discarded in parks and playgrounds by people who frequent the Hub’s numerous methadone clinics.
“The biggest problem we’ve been having is drugs and drug use, especially in our playgrounds and in our parks,” Nesto acknowledged. “It’s become a lot more public than how it’s ever been.”
In a precinct that last year that saw a rise in murders, felony assaults, robberies and rapes, the officers are asked to tackle a range of problems beyond violent crime in their combined roles as community liaisons, patrol officers and investigators. They freely distribute business cards with cell phone numbers and email addresses so community members can call with non-emergency complaints.
But some attendees of safety meetings, like St. Ann’s Episcopal Church sexton and life-long Mott Haven resident Brian Lyons thought officers from the 4-0 should be even more visible.
“You guys are in the area but not in the area. You guys are in cars. You drive by. There’s no noise. Nobody really knows you have a presence in their neighborhood. That’s the problem,” Lyons said. “To me you’re like the invisible cops. Nobody knows you.”
In response, Sgt. Jackson said he’s encouraging the officers to walk the neighborhoods.
“We have to start going out on foot. Because that’s the best way to meet the community, is on foot,” he said. “Because when you’re in the car, yeah, I got my window down, but is it like ‘hey what’s going on, how are you?’ It’s not happening.”
Despite some hiccoughs early in the program’s rollout, the officers say they hope to gain momentum by connecting with residents and businesses.
“People have their doctor, their mechanic. We’re your cops,” said Officer James McGuire, addressing community members at a meeting that covered Sector C, the area between 149th St. and 159th St., between Park and St. Ann’s avenues. There, a discussion on lighting led to attendees sharing information on who to contact at the parks department for a request to trim trees around light poles.
“This is how it’s supposed to work,” McGuire said. “A lot of the times the answers don’t come from us.”