Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

10th captain is focusing on nightlife, student safety

By Albert Amateau

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

Captain Stephen Hughes

Captain Stephen Hughes, who became commanding officer of the 10th Precinct covering Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen in September, has seen a lot of action in Manhattan with the New York Police Department in the past 25 years.

From East Harlem to Chinatown and most recently the West Side of Midtown, Hughes has been a beat cop, anticrime officer and an administrative supervisor before coming to the station house on W. 20th St.

“I was going to St. John’s University in 1981 looking toward a social work career when the police test came up and I took it,” he recalled in a recent interview with The Villager. “It wasn’t so far off the mark — police find themselves in social worker situations all the time,” he observed.

Three years ago, promoted to captain at the age of 43, he became executive officer of the Midtown North Precinct. “It was a great place to learn the administrative side of police work, being responsible for communications and personnel in a precinct with 150 officers — bigger than the police departments in a lot of small cities,” he said.

As commanding officer of the 10th Precinct, Hughes takes reducing crime and enhancing the quality of life as top priorities. “As long as people feel safe walking down the street, I know I’m doing my job,” he said.

Nightlife certainly is a concern between 14th and 43rd Sts. from Seventh and Eighth Aves. on the east to the Hudson River on the west. “We put a lot of department resources into the problem,” Hughes said. The 10th Precinct Cabaret Squad works with other police units in the Manhattan South Borough Command, targeting narcotics, underage drinking and prostitution seven days a week, he said.

“We have 60 bars and restaurants including 10 major clubs, with new openings almost every week,” Hughes noted. Clubs are open until 4 a.m. and get special attention. Multi-agency surprise inspections are conducted regularly and teams make visits at random intervals. Grand larceny and assaults are problems often associated with large nightlife establishments in addition to quality of life issues like traffic, litter and noise. “My feeling is that management [of clubs] has to be held responsible,” Hughes said.

School safety is another focus for Hughes, who met recently with a number of principals in the neighborhood. “We have 20 schools in the precinct with almost 3,000 students,” he observed.

The blocks on W. 17th and W. 18th Sts. between Eighth and Ninths Aves. have an unusually high student population during school hours. An increasing problem involves students robbing fellow students of cell phones and iPods on the streets between the schools and subways. So the precinct deploys beefed-up patrols on those blocks to create a safe corridor for students, said Hughes.

As a rookie, Hughes first patrolled the streets of Jackson Heights, Queens, in the 110th Precinct. “It was one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and still is,” he said. Hughes’s next posting was in the 23rd Precinct in East Harlem where he was on the plainclothes anticrime squad.

Promoted to sergeant in the mid-1980s, Hughes moved to Little Italy/Chinatown’s Fifth Precinct anticrime team. “It was a real challenge and exciting to have high-energy motivated police officers who came to work wanting to make a difference,” he said. “We had three [undercover] taxi cabs in the anticrime Chinatown project,” Hughes noted. “Whenever my kids came into Manhattan they saw me driving a cab — they didn’t believe I was a policeman,” he recalled.

Married with three sons, ages 15, 12 and 11, Hughes likes to spend vacations camping with his family in the national parks — Yellowstone in Wyoming and Acadia National Park in Maine are the family favorites.

But for the past two months, Hughes has been spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the 10th Precinct. Periodically, like all precinct commanders, he has the duty officer assignment, on call to any of the Manhattan South Borough Command precincts whose commanders are out or off duty. “It’s a full plate when I come in to work,” he said, with a satisfied grin.

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