2004-05-13 / View From the Middle

View From

The Middle
By Charles Rogers
Crime Is Down, But Telling People About It Is A Hard Sell
View From The Middle By Charles Rogers Crime Is Down, But Telling People About It Is A Hard Sell

By Charles Rogers
Crime Is Down, But Telling People About It Is A Hard Sell

Crime is indeed down in the 69th Precinct area. Tell that to some residents of BayView Houses or Breukelen Houses and they’ll say, "Yeah, that’ll be the day. Crime’s not down where I live." Then they’ll cite a neighbor or relative who was mugged or assaulted or who knows someone who was, heaven forbid, murdered.

Residents of those complexes and other neighborhoods lambasted police with their own so-called "statistics" at the last meeting of the 69th Precinct Community Council, which was held at the Seaview Jewish Center and attended by a standing room only crowd. It was, incidentally, the first time in years that attendance has been so large, thanks to activists who got the word out that precinct officials were the kind of people who would listen to the complaints and then try to do something about them.

The job of commanding officer of a precinct is not just one of handling law enforcement. Deputy Inspector Robert Johnsen, the local C.O., can tell you the job is also one of very delicate public relations; smoothing the ire of angry citizens; assuaging local elected officials; arbitrating disputes, while being the Chief Executive Officer of a 100-man operation. It ain’t easy. Some precinct C.O.s don’t relate very well with a lot of community members, but Johnsen seems to do it well.

There was a time when police officers could be seen "walking the beat." They were their own public relations gimmicks. This was good, of course, and lent to a wonderful feeling of security for the populace. The old Norman Rockwell-type painting of the smiling officer talking to a neighborhood child is an idealistic dream we all have. We presume this is the way life in America should be. A cop on every block to just make us feel good.

Yeah, idealistic. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way any more.

Now, we have to face reality, and the reality is that crime is around every corner. We can’t possibly fight it the way it used to be fought.

Nowadays, we have what is called the Anti Crime Unit (ACU) doing that so-called beat walking. Only their relations with the public is purely protective and purely enforcement-related. Here are the people who ride around dressed in civilian clothes in un-marked cars day and night. You don’t know they’re there. You’re not supposed to.

When one of the activists at that council meeting brought up a certain corner on Avenue L where drug dealing is allegedly going on, it wasn’t new news to Inspector Johnsen, his patrol officers and his ACU crew. They know the area. They patrol it. They arrest offenders if they’re breaking the law.

When the activists said there aren’t enough cops to handle what appears to be going on in some areas, Johnsen himself protested, noting that statistics show that crime is down here.

Do I sound like I’m defending the people in blue? Well, while I can side with the activists to a point — sure, crime is right there in front of our noses (and why can’t we obliterate it completely?) — I also have to say the fight against crime here is in more-than-capable hands. I personally check the records on a weekly — sometimes daily — basis and I can attest that there are many, many days where Johnsen, members of the detective squad, the ACU people and the rank and file patrol officers have nothing to report to me. Nothing! No arrests; no complaints, other than domestic disputes here and there.

On the other hand, we can’t bury our heads in the sand. People in BayView Houses and Breukelen Houses and on East 80 Street and on Seaview Avenue are being mugged and robbed and we must be vigilant. To a degree, we must do some policing ourselves by calling 911 when we see something unlawful happening; call the authorities when you see that drug exchanging happening on Avenue L. Persistence counts in every case.

If we bug the cops with complaints, they’ll answer.

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