West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 6 | July 11 - 17, 2007

Demand for more police after shootings in proj

By Joe Orovic

A police captain told residents of the Lower East Side projects that even though four people have been shot there in the last two months, he would not put more cops on patrol in the area.

“You can only deploy the officers you have,” said Captain Frank Dwyer of the Seventh Precinct at a meeting with residents on July 2. He said the rest of the precinct would be vulnerable if he put too many officers near the projects just north of the Manhattan Bridge.

He said at least two officers usually cruised by the projects at night, when most crimes were committed, and officers are on foot patrol during the day.

“I’m not going to take my officers out of their cars [at night],” he said. “I don’t want a person dying in an emergency because it took us eight minutes to get to them instead of two. … I assign people to work when the crimes are committed.”

Captain Dwyer’s comments appeared to contradict the theory behind the New York Police Department’s widely praised CompStat program, which is still in place and was first implemented by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Under the program, which uses computer statistics to track crime, officers are concentrated in a precinct’s high-crime sections, rather than spread evenly.

Residents called the spike in crime a “crisis” and “emergency situation” and demanded a stronger police presence at night. The first shooting occurred at Rutgers Houses, followed by another at Baruch Houses and, most recently, two at Vladeck Houses.

“We need a cop that knows our community,” said one resident. “If the cops were here walking a beat, they’d know who’s a troublemaker and who doesn’t need to be harassed.”

Another resident asked for a return to the days when three officers patrolled the projects on foot at all times.

“That’s not possible,” said Dwyer.

Dwyer dismissed any implication that the police were not effective, though, pointing to an overall 9.4 percent decrease in crime in the precinct. Homicides were also down from four last year to one this year, he added.

But residents didn’t let up, saying there, in fact, were many recent shootings, not four. Gunshots go off on a nightly basis, they said. Dwyer offered to clarify by saying, “When we say shooting, we mean when a person is hit by a gunshot, not when a gun is fired.”

Captain Edward F. Britton of Police Service Area 4, which patrols public housing complexes on the Lower East Side, said officers made arrests in three of the four shootings. He didn’t say what the current conditions of the victims were.

Britton said he expected some decrease in crime after a recent drug sting led to 19 total arrests in the Lower East Side projects. Britton said the bust took six months and involved detectives and narcotics agents who helped the district attorney build a case.

“This is one of the first operations like this in Manhattan South that was a success,” he said. “Hopefully, the case is strong enough that you won’t be seeing these guys back on the street anytime soon.”

When tempers cooled a bit, residents agreed the ultimate solution was providing healthy diversions for teenagers.

“We need to make sure our young people have summer camps and employment,” said Councilmember Alan Gerson, who organized the meeting.

Dwyer encouraged parents to bring their children to the precinct on Tuesdays and Thursdays to participate in the Explorer program. He said he’s set aside a space with foosball and ping-pong tables as a place for kids to hang out.

“My hope is once they get bored with the foosball, they’ll sit down and ask an officer to help them with their math homework,” he said.

Gerson promised more security cameras within the projects, saying there was $600,000 in the budget to add new systems. He promised to bring the cameras to the Vladeck Houses and demanded more money from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“The city has a $15 billion surplus. In it, we can find enough money so that every building has cameras,” Gerson said. But the meeting continuously returned to police behavior.

Some parents calling for a bigger police force also said officers are harassing their children.

“There’s no reason a 14-year-old kid should be pushed up against the wall by cops,” said one mother. Other residents spoke of nephews and caretakers being needlessly searched. They hoped an officer familiar with the community would be able to differentiate between the criminal types and the innocent. Neither Dwyer nor Britton responded to the comments.

An officer for the Fifth Precinct in Chinatown had little to report at the meeting other than an armed robbery that has not led to an arrest. He said the precinct has 10 community police officers, often on bicycle, which he said tends to be very effective.

The meeting ended with residents asking the police what they could do to help. The captains emphasized attendance at precinct community council meetings (the Seventh Precinct even offers a free lift there) and giving tips anonymously to officers.

Dwyer picked out two particularly vocal residents and asked them to come by the precinct the next day and give the five rookie officers a tour of the neighborhood.

“They know a lot, but they have a lot to learn. You all can show them the problems and what to look out for better than anyone else can,” Dwyer said.

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