Volume 75, Number 28 | Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2005

A special Villager supplement

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Deputy Inspector Theresa Shortell of the Sixth Police Precinct. Marked on the map behind her when this photo was taken a few weeks ago were patrol areas for a new anti-prostitution unit Shortell has assigned to the Christopher St. area. However, she noted, the patrol areas can change from night to night.

By focusing resources, commander is getting results

By Lincoln Anderson

Responding to problems and community concerns as they arise, and moving patrols to where they are most needed, Deputy Inspector Theresa Shortell has overseen a 5 1/2 percent drop in crime in the Sixth Police Precinct.

Shortell, currently the city’s sole female precinct commanding officer, came to the Sixth, which covers Greenwich Village, a little over a year ago. In a recent hour-long interview, she outlined areas the precinct has been focusing on and the results they’ve achieved.

Among the top problems Shortell has been addressing are noise and quality-of-life issues on Christopher St. In mid-October, Shortell shifted one sergeant and five officers — or, as she put it in police lingo, a “1 and 5” — to the Christopher St. area, covering the overnight 11:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift, and focusing on prostitution.

Shortell said the move has resulted in “less and less complaints and more arrests.” Officers are making busts for prostitution and also public lewdness — such as having sex in public without an exchange of money.

She plans to leave this initiative in place for at least two or three months, after which she’ll reassess it.

“You take a problem. You try to find a solution,” she said. “Right now, this is the solution.”

Another unit, a sergeant and four officers — a “1 and 4”— is assigned to the area as well, “addressing the dispersal of the groups” from the Hudson River Park after the park closes at 1 a.m. and from the Christopher St. area in general, she said.

If groups of people are clogging sidewalks on Christopher St., officers are asking them what they are doing, which tends to move them along. When the officers get out of their cars it has even more effect, she said.

Similarly, if people are sitting on private stoops of buildings in which they do not live, police can, in some cases, tell them to get up. A building owner must enter his or her building in the district attorney’s trespass affidavit program for police to be able to tell people on the stoop to move. According to Shortell, 43 buildings in the precinct — mostly in the Christopher St. area — are in the program, under which police are given keys to the building and can do vertical patrols inside to check for trespassers. “Every once in a while you hear about a party on the roof,” she added, referring to another reason — parties by nonresidents who gain access to Village rooftops — why the tool is useful.

As for the crowd-control measure recently proposed by the Hudson River Park Trust to keep primarily gay youth from pouring onto Christopher St. after the park’s early-morning curfew, Shortell said she sees some logic to it.

“At Madison Square Garden you don’t just use one exit,” Shortell noted. “You have hundreds of kids coming out one intersection to Christopher St.” Yet, she stressed, the police don’t have jurisdiction over the park’s policies. “They’re in charge of the Hudson River Park,” she said of the Trust. “And then when they [the park users] come across West St., the Sixth Precinct will be in charge.”

It’s no longer even clear whether the crowd-control plan will happen, after Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, at the Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee in early November, said it “probably won’t work” because young gay park users will just circle back to Christopher St. after exiting the park at points to the north and south.

Shortell said that the precinct’s job is to assure the safety and quality of life of both the people who live here, as well as the tourists and others who come to visit.

“Christopher St. is a major thoroughfare for transit alone,” she pointed out. “So of course it attracts people— along with the stores.”

The precinct’s other big attraction is Bleecker St., she said, though adding that the booming nightlife scene of the formerly desolate Meat Market now also requires attention and has “expanded the precinct.”

“We’re trying to look at ways for traffic control over there,” she noted of the Meat Market.

Of the mini-Times Square-like strip of tattoo shops and sex video stores on Sixth Ave., Shortell said, “We police it to the best of our ability.”

One area Shortell said has definitely improved over past years, is marijuana-dealing activity around Washington Square. Before she became C.O. of the Sixth Precinct, Shortell previously worked as a Narcotics Unit sergeant in the Sixth from 1993-’95 and then as a Narcotics lieutenant in the Sixth and Tenth (Chelsea) precincts in 2000.

Speaking from personal experience, Shortell says there’s been a “100 percent improvement” in the drug-dealing situation around the park. “Washington Square Park is now a place where enforcement is taken on a regular basis,” she said. The precinct’s own narcotics unit — a “1 and 6” — is “the best in the city,” Shortell said.

As for the obvious fact that some dealers still hang out on the west side of the park’s plaza — though only making their connections, not dealing, there — Shortell said police are limited by law as to actions they can take.

“It’s easier said than done — all enforcement,” she noted.

Noisy bars are another quality-of-life issue that Shortell is meeting with multiagency response — or MARCH — teams, in which members of the precinct and Fire and Health departments, toting noise meters, issue Environmental Control Board summonses to premises that are overcrowded, noisy or without proper exits, among other violations. The precinct was effective in shuttering one problem restaurant/nightclub, Hue on Charles St., issuing over 27 summonses for a range of violations, including underage drinking.

“Whatever was a violation, he had one,” said Detective Mike Singer, Sixth Precinct community affairs officer, who sat in with Shortell on the interview. Neighbors’ calls to 311 and complaint letters also helped bring an end to Hue. Yet, despite more than 500 liquor-licenses premises in the precinct, only a handful are causing problems, Singer said. “A lot places, if we give them a summons, we never hear from them again,” he noted, adding that these places’ first priority is to stay in business. One other problem premises, at 13th St. and Fifth Ave., of which one of the actor Baldwin brothers was an owner, was also closed down — for fights inside — Singer added.

Shortell said she relies a lot for help on Singer — “I couldn’t do this job without him,” she said — who’s been assigned to the precinct 23 years.

More than a few officers have been at the precinct for a long time, because they love the community, Shortell said. In fact, many of the precinct’s officers won’t take tests to become sergeants, because they don’t want to be transferred to another precinct, which automatically occurs with a promotion.

“They’re the most passionate command I’ve seen,” Shortell said of the precinct.

In another job well done, after complaints of loud hanging out and engine revving, the Sixth addressed motorcycle parking and standing on Eighth St. in front of Gray’s Papaya and BBQ. New No Standing signs were posted and the regulation enforced consistently to hammer home the point with the young riders.

“In order to clean up W. Eighth St. it took manpower,” Shortell stressed. It sunk in with the bikers that they can’t eat hot dogs while sitting on their motorcycles and revving their engines.

Halloween saw Shortell lose her voice shouting at people through a bullhorn to get on the sidewalks and keep Christopher St. and the avenues clear. Singer said he’s been impressed with how “hands on” a commander she’s been.

Changing gears again, the precinct is now focusing on “zero tolerance” for shoplifting during the busy holiday season, the deputy inspector said.

In talking with Shortell, it becomes clear that a precinct commanding officer’s work is never done. Even when a problem is fixed, it can always reemerge.

“There’s never a quality of life issue you don’t have to monitor,” she said.
Hopefully, in January, the precinct will get a good number of new officers from the Police Academy’s graduating class, which will help.

One thing making the police’s job easier is the new 311 system, since now police aren’t automatically called when anything goes wrong.

“A cat’s up in the tree, what do you do? You call the cops,” Shortell said. “Too much garbage on the sidewalk — you call the police. Light pole was out — call the cops. Now [with 311], we streamline — use all the agencies.”

Even so, the police still have more than enough work to keep them busy.

"Our job is never easy. We have to keep everybody happy, and we try. I'm here very early in the morning," said Shortell — who takes early-morning jogs through the Hudson River Park — "and sometimes very late at night. There's always something going on."

“It’s 24/7,” she said. “There’s always improvement to be had. There’s 80,000 residents [in Greenwich Village] — until they’re all happy, there’s always going to be police work.”

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