Telling It Like It Is
You're going to hear and see a lot going on this summer in the streets with all the violence that breaks out in the community. But you're only going to see it with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. Unfortunately, the officials aren't going to tell you anything about what's going on in our community.
I should know – I've been getting the runaround from the one and only organization that residents are SUPPOSED TO turn to in order to feel safe and well informed - the NYPD!
Whenever someone calls the Canarsie Courier office, asking why we haven't covered a horrific car accident (although we've been publishing them as often as we can - the more gruesome, the better) or why we don't have more information about a shooting, it's hard to take credit for not having adequate resources. A reporter's best resource is often witnesses, family members at a scene, neighbors and other passersby who can give an accurate account of what happened on their block. No offense to New York's “Finest,” but when they arrive at a scene to cordon off a block, their only job – it seems – is to secure the area and “stand guard” without offering residents any comfort or insight on what's going on. How can they protect us if they say they know less about what's going on than the average homeowner who lives right next door to the action?
Whenever I pursue a crime story, it's common practice to base the facts loosely on what happened at the scene. When the media says “police sources,” it can be referring to anyone on the “inside” to the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (DCPI), which is the official organization that's SUPPOSED TO release information on crimes in the city. The key term here is SUPPOSED TO.
How, I ask, are reporters SUPPOSED TO keep our community informed if we can't tell the public what's going on? Following one recent incident, I called the NYPD's public information department to get details on a vehicular disaster that caused an entire avenue to be shut down for nearly four hours. While I didn't see the details in other news outlets about anything happening at that location, you can't tell me that nothing went down for an entire four hours! Well, maybe seeing all those police cruisers and Emergency Service Unit trucks was just our imagination because the NYPD has NO records - NO recollection of anything having happened that day!
Sure, I've heard that crime is down and that “things are quiet” in our community - and that's probably because a majority of the crazy incidents that we see in the streets is NOT documented by the NYPD. It seems that many incidents – thefts, domestic violence and shootings – are placed in different subcategories so that they're not considered a “major” crime. My question is - how do they distinguish what's “documented” and what's not?
Let's get real!!!! One of their mottos is “If you see something, say something.” What good is that if the cops see something or know something and tell us NOTHING? Is that their tactic for protecting us as in “What you don't know won't hurt you”? How can we prepare ourselves for inner-city terrorism and danger if those who are paid to protect us aren't forthcoming about what's going on right next door to us?
The part that frightens me about the lack of resources offered by the NYPD is that there are no preventative measures offered at a scene other than “step away.” You're more likely to get arrested for interfering with police activity than to be asked by a cop to look out for someone driving a certain car or wearing certain colors. How can we protect ourselves if there's no communication between the community and the Police Department? We're standing in the streets, looking aimlessly at “Do Not Cross” police tape, as if we're in some moving museum that has no labels on its displays!
City Councilman Jumaane Williams constantly releases statements that his political agenda includes improving relations between the community and the NYPD. I'm not sure how that can be achieved if every cop at each crime scene acts like a bouncer at a club - just picture them standing guard with their sunglasses on and arms folded... and mute. No, I don't expect cops to be friendly (Were they ever? And are there communities in other states where police are at 'one' with civilians?). However, now that everyone is out in the streets, having house parties and getting into potentially dangerous arguments, isn't it time Police Commissioner Ray Kelly discuss some type of community relations improvement plan? It's obvious that police are told not to reveal anything to the public - and if they do, it's only a few words about someone having been shot or “nothing happened here...just a complaint.”
When television cameras arrive at a shooting or accident scene, regular people like you and I are the ones who tell the story! The police are not allowed to report on anything since Kelly is the only official who can legally release a statement. But that's ONLY when it comes to major crimes. Want to know about a drug bust in your community? Too bad! No one will tell you anything – unless it's made known via the NYPD's public relations.
The only thing a resident CAN do is attend their local community council meeting and personally talk to the Captain of the precinct or Community Affairs Officer. While the local precinct's top officials have been somewhat helpful in the past - because of the relationship the Canarsie Courier has formed with them over the years - there are still problems that plague the “Finest.” The top dogs at the NYPD claim to not file “minor incidents” in the community like car accidents or incidents involving emotionally disturbed people. (EDPs). Is the Department that segregated and overwhelmed that they can't attain “minor incident” reports from precincts, which could later turn into a fatal shooting in communities like East Flatbush? Why do people have to die or get seriously injured for information to be released to the public?
I do my job to the best of my ability, but I wish I could inform the public in greater detail about what happened at 2 o' clock in the morning on Flatlands Avenue when 20 cop cars set up shop for five hours on a cordoned off block. It's just our luck - the NYPD will have nothing on record...and neither will we.