By Stephen Witt
A local cop with eyes, ears and a heart for the Windsor Terrace community was honored recently for his work in busting the infamous “Backfat” graffiti artist. Detective Michael Cleary, a 21-year police veteran, was honored at the recent 72nd Precinct Community Council meeting by City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who presented Cleary with a certificate for his work in apprehending the vandal. “Detective Cleary has been a longstanding, dedicated member of this community. We can always count on him to keep our office informed of important neighborhood issues. Most recently, he worked diligently with my office and many of our neighbors to catch the notorious graffiti artist ‘Backfat,’” said de Blasio. Cleary made the bust of 21-year-old Charles Arbarno last month after the suspect allegedly tagged the word ‘Backfat’ all over the Windsor Terrace and Kensington neighborhoods for several months. Cleary said his investigation began and was greatly helped by being born and raised in Windsor Terrace, the same area he covers. In fact, Cleary said his parents still live in the neighborhood and his family goes back two generations in Windsor Terrace. “Luckily, everyone I know there, plus people I’ve gotten to know — they share information with me,” said Cleary, adding that he even gives his cell phone number out to some people, and also lets the word out that messages can be left for him at de Blasio’s office. Cleary said he put the word out that he was looking for the graffiti vandal. “Between me and my partner, Bill Tomasi, and my sergeant, John Ward, we did a little investigation, and looked around to see who was doing what and where,” said Cleary. Cleary said that after speaking with other individuals from the neighborhood, the three cops tracked down Arbarno and made the bust. Arbarno moved to the neighborhood about a year and a half ago from Seattle, said Cleary, adding the suspect said the tag had something to do with eating Spanish food. “He lives right down the block from where he made a few of his tags. I don’t know him but he knows me now,” said Cleary. Cleary said he is not an authority on tags with the ability to identify gang member marks that plague some neighborhoods, but does understand some of the graffiti language including certain tags and people who do tags. Cleary said he is currently investigating several graffiti tags in the area through talking to sources throughout the neighborhood. “Down the road I’ll take some pictures and do a little investigation and probably end up grabbing the guys doing it,” he said. Meanwhile, the precinct’s commanding officer, Captain Peter Simonetti, said last month that his precinct leads the city in graffiti cleanups. “The way we look at it, graffiti leads to other things,” Simonetti explained. “We do a lot of cleanups.” Simonetti also praised Cleary in the job he did investigating the ‘Backfat’ graffiti complaint, which resulted in an arrest and closed out two prior reports that were on file for the same tag. “He actually investigated and took the initiative himself and did a terrific job in closing it out where we had community complaints, not only in the councilman’s office but in the precinct as well,” said Simonetti.