Trying to Bridge the Cop-Citizen Gap

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By Natasha Payés, Lauren Hard

In an attempt to start to narrow the distance between some citizens and some cops,  Rep. Carolyn Maloney met with New York City Housing Authority tenants and police officials recently to  encourage both groups to collaborate more.

Close to 30 tenants—mostly middle-aged and senior citizens from the Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Woodside, and Astoria Houses—packed a small room at the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement House in Long Island City on January 24. They had both grievances and praise about interactions between residents and officers from Police Service Area 9 and the 114th Precinct.

Maloney, who organized the meeting along with Victoria Schneps, the publisher of The Queens Courier hosted the discussion. “If we work together, we’re going to be so much stronger,” said Maloney.

April Simpson, the tenant association president of the Queensbridge Houses, thanked Congresswoman Maloney for her presence, but said officials from NYCHA should have been at the meeting.

Carolyn Maloney

“We need some changes. The police can only do so much. There are too many hidey-holes for people to hide in here,” said Simpson. “We know that there are excellent police officers, but there are some who aren’t.” Often Simpson said she greets officers with a “hello” or “good morning,” her way of showing respect, but complained that some officers dismiss such gestures.

Beyond morning greetings,  more serious concerns about interactions with the NYPD came up. One woman spoke about finding a bullet hole in her car window and claimed when she contacted police, the officers who responded mentioned that her public housing development sat between two precincts. Technically, the crime occurred 500 feet outside their jurisdiction, she said.

Maloney encouraged residents to record badge numbers to submit complaints—as well as thank you notes. Captain Mark Simmons from Police Service Area 9 also strongly encouraged tenants to record badge numbers and submit complaints to him should such incidents occur. He said, the NYPD badge allows authorities to assist citizens in any neighborhood.

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Another resident, who goes by “Suga-Ray,” 30, suggested bonding events where officers showed up not wearing their uniforms. Both he and Simpson asked to reinstitute summer basketball tournaments. Simpson said tournaments were important to the community and helped bridged communication between officers and residents. Simpson recalled a time that “kids used to call officers by Harry and Bob.” Schneps of the Courier said she would sponsor such sports events.

Simmons said it has taken a communal effort to build a working relationship between his officers and community members. The community has supported the command, he said, and the evidence is falling crime statistics for the area. Last year, 1,912 crimes were reported for the area. In 2001, 3,481 crimes were reported—nearly a 45 percent drop, according to the NYPD’s crime statistics.

“But there’s more work to be done. We need to reduce the fear residents have of officers,” said Simmons.

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