2004-02-19 / View From the Middle

View From

The MiddleQuestions About Gangs Are Coming Up More Often Lately
By Charles Rogers
View From The Middle By Charles Rogers Questions About Gangs Are Coming Up More Often Lately

The Middle
Questions About Gangs Are Coming Up More Often Lately

When you walk into the 69th Precinct on Foster Avenue, you’ll see a short hallway to the left where there is a "holding tank," so to speak. No, it’s not a cell with bars and solitude, it’s merely a small room where youths are taken while police officers who picked them up on charges ranging anywhere from truancy to minor misdemeanors to major crimes have them wait while they fill out administrative paperwork.

There is a lone chair in the middle of that small room and signs on the wall posting various messages and memoranda to different departments regarding the handling of young suspects, material witnesses and others important to cases at hand. In the middle of the conglomeration of paper notes is a large policy notice that says youthful suspects are always to be questioned as to their connections with gangs. Some of the questioning may center on whether the gangs referred to are small or large; are they Crips or Bloods or Latin Kings or just wannabes who think they’re big deals but only use the gang names to try to justify a need to be attached to some bigger authority.

Sergeant Ray Singletary and Police Officer Jim Johnson, who handle the precinct’s Youth Unit, know all about these gangs, whether they’re the big ones or just a group of punks who think they’re tough; who want to belong to something, anything. Under the leadership of Deputy Inspector Robert Johnsen, commanding officer of the precinct, Singletary and Johnson work closely with the NYPD’s Gang Unit, the outfit that can weed out the bona fide bad guys from just the kids and let the local precincts in on their expertise.

It was only last month that a case in Canarsie was finalized when an alleged member of the notorious Crips gang was arrested and charged in a murder that took place here last June. Detectives knew there was a gang connection when the victim was shot to death during a party in one of those backyard driveways on East 82nd Street. The dead guy was a member of the Bloods, who are arch enemies with the Crips. It took awhile before the alleged shooter was nabbed be-cause there’s an awful lot of paper work entailed in tracking down these people. You’ve got to sort out who’s who, first of all. That means asking questions and asking questions and, yeah, asking more questions. It means talking to a kid in the holding room of a police station; not interrogating him or her, but just trying to ferret out how much is known about a gang here and a gang there and whether the kid has a connection.

It’s hard to say whether there have been inroads into getting rid of violent gangs. It’s obvious that officials are trying, especially since even the federal government has earmarked specific monies for those efforts. State and city dollars are being tendered and statistics tell us crime is, generally, down.

Last weekend, Senator Charles Schumer (we re-member him as "Chuck" when he was our congressman) said in a press conference that more money ought to be allotted to fighting gangs — throughout the country.

Meanwhile, though, we should applaud Inspector Johnsen and Sergeant Singletary and Officer John-son and the NYPD as they continue to make their efforts against gangs a high priority.

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