500 attend York meet with NYPD

By Adam Kramer

More than 500 people from southern Queens attended a town hall meeting with Police Commissioner Howard Safir last Thursday night, but only a few voiced their criticism of the Police Department in the aftermath of the Diallo verdict. Many praised the job the NYPD was doing.

The crowd gathered at York College in Jamaica for one in a series of community meetings the police are holding throughout the five boroughs to discuss community concerns. Safir said the sessions were planned before four white officers were found not guilty of killing Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, in the Bronx.

“I think it is very important that you know what we are doing and it is most important to me and all of us here to know what your concerns are,” Safir said.

“This is a very tense time in the city,” he said. “There is a lot of anger over the Diallo verdict and a lot of concern over police community relations.”

Four members of the Street Crime Unit were acquitted by a jury in Albany on Feb. 25 in the shooting of Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 bullets fired by the four officers outside his Bronx building in 1999.

Vernel Bennett, president of the 225th – 226th Block Association in Laurelton, said the meeting was positive but he was concerned that all of those in attendance knew the police brass and members of the community at large were not included.

He said the invitations to the meeting went out to community leaders who knew the police. Bennett said he wished the Police Department had gone to the churches and put signs in the street inviting the entire south Queens community.

Even though a sprinkling of community members at the meeting criticized the Police Department's handling of the Diallo situation and the lack of community policing, the majority of people who spoke showered praise on the NYPD for the job it has done to lower crime in their neighborhoods.

Queens Patrol Borough South consists of the 100th and 101st precincts in Far Rockaway, the 102nd in Richmond Hill, 103rd in Jamaica, the 105th that takes in Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens, the 106th Precinct in Ozone Park, the 107th in Fresh Meadows and the 113th in South Jamaica.

Eric Rogers, vice president of the 225th-226th Block Association in Laurelton, asked Safir what he was doing to prevent another Diallo killing from happening again.

Safir said he looked at the makeup and tactics of the Street Crime Unit in order to see “what went wrong.”

He said he changed the ethnic and racial makeup of the Street Crimes Unit so that 25 percent of the officers are black and added at least one uniformed officer to the Street Crime Unit when officers are making an arrest. He also said one supervisor is now assigned to four officers rather than six and training has been increased in areas of tactics, law and cultural sensitivity.

“In the Amadou Diallo situation, if someone was writing a script on everything that could possibly go wrong in a situation, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong that evening,” Safir said.

He also said New York City residents might not agree with the verdict, but it was reached through the legal system. He said there were other options in the Diallo case and the Diallo family and their advisers were pursuing other alternatives such as federal and civil prosecution.

“The reality is the Diallo family deserves tremendous compensation for what happened to their son,” he said. “It was a terrible tragedy. Nobody went out to kill Amadou Diallo.”

One woman from Springfield Gardens voiced her concern over community policing. She said a few weeks ago when she was driving home, two police officers pulled in front of her and ran toward her car with their guns drawn and hats on backwards.

She said the cops asked for her license. But she said the officers did not have their badges in plain view and their license plates were down. When she refused to get out of the car, she said the police berated her with expletives, and when she asked to see a uniformed supervisor, the police officers left the scene.

“We will certainly investigate that and track that if they are in fact cops,” Safir said. “Certainly that is not the way we expect our police officers to act.”

Assistant Chief Joseph Fox, of Patrol Borough Queens South, said his office is already investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Barbara Walker, president of the Gateway Council for the Community of Far Rockaway, received one of the biggest cheers when she complimented the 101st Precinct for the job that the police had done lowering crime in her neighborhood.

Even though the meeting was billed as a public forum and other newspapers covered the meeting, Marilyn Mode, deputy commissioner of public information, said the press was not invited.