Comm. Affairs Chief Reaches Out At 112th Pct.
The head of the NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau came to the 112th Precinct Community Council meeting last Wednesday, Mar. 21, in Forest Hills to help explain some of the programs designed to build a stronger relationship between police and the communities which it serves.
Chief Philip Banks III recounted some of his experiences in his 27 years on the job, beginning with his first assignment to the 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn and his current job, which he regards as “the best in the entire department.”
“I spend most of my day out here listening to you,” Banks said, noting that among his duties is to travel to communities across the city and hear from civic leaders and residents about how police are performing as well as the problems they are facing in their respective neighborhoods.
As explained by Banks and one of his colleagues at the Community Affairs Bureau, Det. Thomas Verni, the office’s main mission is gather information from the community, bring it back to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and other NYPD brass and create programs and initiatives designed to develop a greater bond between officers and the public.
One of the programs operated by the bureau is the Juvenile Justice Division, which Banks stated focuses “on kids who are on the cuff of criminality and find ways to bring them back on the right road.” He noted that this task can prove quite challenging to the department, as youths are faced with many “negative opportunities” in this day and age from a wide variety of sources.
“We’re looking to educate everyone as much as we can about the dangers out there so we can be in the position to protect them,” the chief said, adding that the bureau is constantly working to “identify programs and people that can impact these particular kids in a positive manner.”
Banks cited the recent incident in East Harlem in which a group of youths assaulted and seriously injured a woman with a shopping cart. Police captured the suspects through information provided by a young tipster, whom the chief noted has since been harassed by former friends and branded as a rat and a snitch.
“We’re trying to reach out to that young person to help him as much as we can,” he said. “That’s a person we should really look up to.”
He also emphasized that the NYPD “can’t do it alone” and that the public needs to help get involved in the lives of youths to help steer them on a law-abiding path. Verni added that the community’s cooperation with police over the years has led the department to reach historic milestones in crime reduction.
The detective used a PowerPoint presentation to further explain the bureau’s mission, noting that it works with community affairs units in each precinct to “foster good relations with the public through interactive programs for adults and children.” Some of those programs include Auxiliary Units and civilian observation patrols, which Verni stated, are comprised of volunteers who act as extra eyes and ears for the NYPD.
The NYPD also offers the “ridealong” program in which residents can ride with a pair of officers for two to four hours on a normal shift. This gives the public a “bird’s eye view” as to what police encounter on a daily basis, Verni said.
Those interested in how police officers are trained can also sign up for the Citizens Police Academy, a 14- week abbreviated training program held at the NYPD’s facility near Gramercy Park, the detective added.
Other programs coordinated by the Community Affairs Unit include the National Night Out Against Crime, Harmony Picnics for youths in each borough and conferences with religious leaders during high holy days, Verni stated. The bureau also oversees outreach units aimed at helping immigrants and members of the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
As part of the Juvenile Justice Division, the detective noted, the Community Affairs Bureau offers a number of programs aimed at piquing children’s interest in pursuing a law enforcement career, including a summer Youth Police Academy and Explorers programs in each precinct. The Police Athletic League also operates a number of activities designed to foster a better relationship between officers and children and teenagers.
Finally, the bureau also oversees the School Safety Division, which operates at every public school throughout the city. Verni said that the division reaches out to youths on a host of topics such as cyberbullying and conflict resolution.
Banks was asked about the launch of the Block Watchers program, in which residents can undergo training to serve as members of a neighborhood watch. The chief stated that the program’s development is “95 percent complete,” and that the NYPD will soon begin recruitment and training programs.
Despite being slightly up in crime year-to-date, the 112th Precinct has the second-fewest number of reported crimes in the entire city, according to Deputy Inspector Christopher Tamola, the force’s commanding officer.
Approximately 176 major crimes were tallied over the 28-day period that concluded on Mar. 18, up from 168 registered during the same period in 2011, Tamola said. He also mentioned that the precinct had the lowest number of auto thefts (11) and burglaries (25) of the commands in the entire borough.
Grand larcenies continue to be the most prevalent crime in the precinct, but Tamola pointed out that many of the incidents could have been prevented had the victims taken extra precautions to secure their properties. He recalled some of the complaints filed with the command in recent weeks, including the theft of a wallet left in an unattended bag at a doctor’s office and personal property stolen from an unsecured locker at a local fitness center.
A local resident inquired about the reported knifepoint robbery of a woman who was walking her dog near a local drug store on Feb. 22. The resident asked the commander for future notification to organizations such as Community Board 6 about crimes in the area, charging that the community did not receive much information about the incident at the time.
Tamola stated that the robbery remains under investigation, and that it appeared to be an isolated incident. While he noted that the precinct can’t give out information for every crime that happens, the commander stated that he would reach out to community groups in the event of a serious crime pattern.
Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the community council, warned residents in the Forest Hills Gardens area not to answer to any individual seeking to gain entry into a home during early morning hours. She noted that residents in the community had informed police of suspicious individuals in the area posing as neighbors who have made such attempts in recent weeks.
P.O. Thomas Rang of the 112th Precinct Community Affairs Unit made an appeal to the public for donors to the precinct’s blood drive on Monday, Apr. 16, from noon to 6 p.m. at the stationhouse. For more information or to register as a donor, call the number listed at the end of this article.
The next 112th Precinct Community Council meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday night, Apr. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the stationhouse located at the corner of Austin Street and Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills. For more information, call the 112th Precinct Community Affairs Unit at 1-718-520-9321.