Greenpoint: A Grassroots Push for More Cops

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A crimewatch group pushes back against a mini crime wave

Since the middle of September, residents in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood have increasingly become aware of violent assaults on their streets, as well as a number of break-ins affecting the homes of some neighbors. Capt. Stefan Komar from the 94th Precinct has assured community members that the “Major 7” crimes, including murder, manslaughter, and rape, are down—from 90 at this point last year to 81. Looking more closely, though, he conceded that robberies in the most recent 28-day period had jumped from 9 to 13, and felony assaults were up from 7 to 9.

Capt. Stefan Komar of the 94th Precinct addresses questions and concerns of community members at a meeting on September 22. (Katie Krzaczek / The Brooklyn Ink)

One local activist and community leader, Emily Gallagher, says she began hearing about fears of rising crime while running for office earlier this year. Although Gallagher lost her race for Female District Leader in September by some 300 votes, her outreach leading up to the election was revealing to her. When she was knocking on doors, Gallagher says, she kept hearing people “talking about getting mugged…about the sexual assaults.” She decided to do something about it, she says, “whether or not I get elected.”

As a result, she began organizing informal meetings in the basement of the Park Church Co-op on Russell Street, right across from McGolrick Park. The informal gatherings, Gallagher says, are meant to serve as neutral ground where “everyone has power” to bring what they know to the discussion.

The result has been the unofficially named Greenpoint Task Force, which first met on September 22 and drew more than 60 community members. The biggest question—one asked that night by multiple attendees and that resonated in every follow-up meeting—concerned the strained resources of the 94th Precinct. Everyone wanted to know: Does the 94th Precinct, which serves Greenpoint and parts of Williamsburg, have enough cops?

At the October 5 Precinct Community Council meeting, Capt. Komar talked about strained resources, explaining that “the whole police department has taken on more…in the last decade,” and citing the beefed up counterterrorism units that were implemented after 9/11. Komar said that the officers at the 94th work to adjust to new demands “with the technology available to us,” he said. “We try to be efficient…We try to prioritize.”

But most attendees groaned when Komar revealed that the precinct only has four patrol cars on duty from midnight through 7 a.m., a time when the residents are pushing for increased patrols. Moreover, they said they want those patrols throughout the neighborhood, not just in the small, bar-heavy section of Williamsburg that many residents believe is draining the precinct’s resources.

Criminal justice experts say that staffing a police department, especially in an urban location, is an ongoing challenge. James McCabe, PhD., a 21-year veteran of the NYPD and A criminal justice professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., said a department the size of the NYPD considers a number of factors in filling precincts, but “departments are always at a deficit, it’s always a battle.” Often, he said, the department will start with a “baseline” for staffing and add to it with “about a dozen variables,” including the crime tracked in a particular area. Resources of the NYPD are bound to be strained, though; McCabe pointed out that the department as a whole has about 7,000 fewer sworn officers than it did 10 years ago.

Along with the concerns that police are spending too much time at the north-side bar district, community members, including Gallagher and councilman Stephen Levin, have expressed concern over what they say is an increase in population in Greenpoint over the past several years while policing levels remain static. The most recent Census data, collected between 2009 and 2013, shows that the total population in Greenpoint actually decreased over those years, from 34,719 residents to 31,875. But that’s not to say Greenpoint hasn’t seen a population jump since 2013. And, as one resident, Jane Hansen, points out, the numbers are sure to go up when the construction of Greenpoint Landing, a 5,000 unit mixed-use waterfront development at 21 Commercial Street and 33 Eagle Street, is completed mid- to late-2017.

Hansen says she got involved with the Task Force after growing disenchanted with the way the Community Board meetings were conducted. She recalls the community concerns voiced before the opening of the McGuinness Shelter, an assessment shelter for homeless men entering the shelter system, in 2012. Attendees at the community board meetings raised questions about the shelter and “making sure the infrastructure is in place”—for public safety. But, she says, nothing much changed. “When you crowd certain numbers of certain demographics in one place, you need to respond proportionally” with proper policing, Hansen says. “We can be compassionate and still have concerns” with the intake shelter, she says.

Around the time the Task Force began meeting, Hansen began plotting a local crime map. “You can’t justify asking for action if you can’t verify what’s going on,” she said.

Her crime map logs crimes as they are added to CompStat, but also before that, when they’re shared among neighbors, awaiting to be added to CompStat’s data. And her map shows patterns of crime beyond the areas of the precinct that cater to nightlife. Hansen’s map also includes locations brought up in meetings that could be possible targets for crime, like Citi Bike stations and Pokémon Go Gyms.

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Two weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, seven community members, something of a subcommittee of the Greenpoint Task Force, met at the Park Church Co-op. The seven, including Gallagher and Hansen, were discussing the logistics of some measures proposed at the larger group’s previous meetings, like putting up flyers in English, Spanish, and Polish to make everyone in the community more aware of the crimes in the neighborhood. There was talk of beginning a “block watch,” and of creating a formal petition for more police.

There was a sense of urgency at the meeting. “When I was a teenager, the problems here were drunks, drug addicts, and gangs,” said Vinnie Plotino, who has lived in Greenpoint for 64 years. “And when the gangs fought, they fought other gangs.” Now, he said, the gangs are targeting anyone on the street and that affects the whole community.

Gallagher and others want more police in the 94th and more patrols on the streets. “I’d like to see people in power realize they can’t blame things on resources,” she said.

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