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Rookies meet & greet on beats

Police Officer Pete Mirro and Corona restaurateur Johnny Diaz may never have met except for a new program instituted by the New York Police Department (NYPD) brass.
Mirro, a 23-year-old native of Long Island and one of 72 recently assigned officers at the 115th Precinct, has been posted on 103rd Street. Diaz’s restaurant - La Birsa - is situated almost exactly in the center of Mirro’s beat.
However, on Friday, July 13, the cop and storeowner had a chance to talk about the neighborhood, its ethnically diverse population and how the locals and police officers can work together.
As part of an initiative launched two months ago by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly - the Community Partnership Program - rookie cops like Mirro must go out into the community and make contacts with people on their beat.
There are no limits to the number of potential contacts the rookies can make - storeowners, homeowners, parents dropping off their kids at school, restaurant goers out for the evening. The only requirement is that the new officers break the ice with locals.
“The program’s ultimate goal is to … help the community understand the role of the police and help the police get to know members of the community,” said Captain Jack Jaskaran, the Commanding Officer of NYPD’s Community Outreach section. “We think what we are doing here and now will pay off large dividends in the near future and the long term future, as well.”
Diaz, who took over the restaurant from his father in 1993, knows about problems that plagued the area a decade ago - drugs, gangs, and prostitution - and new ones that have sprouted up like noisy bars and drunken patrons. He has lived on 103rd Street for nearly 40 years and is involved in the local community group, the Corona Business Corporation.
“Now the problems we have are gang-related fights and bars that stay open until four o’clock in the morning and who give their patrons alcohol over the limit that they can handle,” Diaz told Mirro and three other officers - Sergeant Ray Morales, a Community Affairs officer from the Queens Outreach Unit, and first-year Police Officers Jason Bianchini and Jungsai Kim - who were on foot patrol in Corona.
After their meeting with Diaz, the officers took a minute to talk about what they had learned.
“This is exactly what the program is all about,” said Morales, later adding, “Look at the wealth of information that these people are supplying us with.”
The contacts, Morales explained, are a two-way street - local residents give new cops a heads up about issues and problems they see and officers, in turn, can let people know about what is going on in the neighborhood. In addition, the issues in each of the borough’s 16 precincts and the number of new officers they were assigned this year vary.
A total of 119 officers were assigned to Patrol Borough Queens North - 12 in the 104th, 10 in the 108th and 112th, nine in the 114th, and none in the 109th and 110th Precincts. Patrol Borough Queens South was assigned 130 new officers with five to the 100th, eight to the 101st and 102nd, 48 to the 103rd, 25 to the 105th, 18 to the 106th, six to the 107th, and 12 to the 113th Precincts.
In Bayside, two new officers - out of six total - at the 111th Precinct talked to locals while on foot patrol around Bayside High School on Tuesday, July 24.
The officers, Mike Ferrari, 27, and Larry Lewandoski, 22, said they had already met with teachers at a pre-school and hoped to make a few more contacts, like 23-year-old Adriana Martinez from Flushing. Last month, the car belonging to Martinez’s neighbor was broken into, she said.
“It was right in front of the house,” Martinez said. “I have to wonder, ‘Am I going to be next?’”
Speaking with police officers about the incident, she said, made her feel that the cops are investigating the problem.
So far, police officers said that they have gotten good feedback from the community.
“Some people are a little hesitant to give you their name,” said Lewandoski, a New Hyde Park resident, whose two grandfathers and two uncles were police officers. “But I’ve gotten nothing but really positive feedback.”
Police officials have also begun surveying community members about their take on the program, asking locals to rate their interaction with police officers.
“The feedback that we’ve been getting has been very positive,” Jaskaran said.
Still, some residents seem also very surprised.
Seventeen-year-old Joseph Barios from Bushwick had no idea why officers approached him, as he sat on a Corona stoop with several friends recently.
“I thought it was because they were looking for someone,” he said.
“Over the years, the personal contact has been lost,” said Lt. Lamont Jasper, from the Queens Outreach Unit, adding, “What we are trying to do now is showing police the importance of going around and speaking to people.”
Corona residents Marco and Marlene Yup, out for a stroll on 37th Avenue with their nine-month-old daughter, Leslie, also seemed apprehensive at first to be approached by the team of police officers. However, after a few moments, they relaxed and showed off their baby.
“This is the first time that something like this has happened,” Marco said, adding, “It’s nice to know that we have someone taking care of us.”

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