LIC residents meet with area police officers to forge better ties

By Sadef Ali Kully

As the rift between the Police Department and city leaders subsided after the fatal shooting of two police officers, city officials, community leaders, and NYPD representatives participated in a community meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) at Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City Saturday.

The purpose of the meeting was to bolster the relationship between the NYPD and public housing residents in western Queens, Maloney said. She was joined by Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney of the 114th Precinct; Capt. Mark Simmons of Police Service Area 9, a police initiative for more vigilance in high crime areas; Marian Jeffries, president of the Astoria NAACP chapter; tenant association leaders from Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria and Woodside Houses and community leaders at the Riis Settlement House.

“For the past six months we have witnessed very disturbing unrest between communities around the nation, from Ferguson, Ohio to South Carolina,” the congresswoman said. “We have seen some peaceful protests and unfortunately some not-so-peaceful protests. People want to be heard, they want to feel safe, and they want to be respected. In light of that, I have called this meeting to support each other.”

Last year Mayor Bill de Blasio started a $210 million city initiative to decrease crime in the city’s housing developments, specifically targeting 15 projects that have had the highest crime rates, including the Queensbridge North and South housing developments. The 15 NYCHA residences account for 17 percent of all violent crimes within public housing, according to the City Council’s Public Housing Committee.

Since the initiative began, Queensbridge has received 15 light towers, the most in all the housing developments in the city. Queensbridge Houses is the largest public housing development in the country with 3,147 apartments serving a total population of 6,731 according to the New York City Housing Association.

“We are a family and I gotta commend Captain Simmons and PSA 9 because of the hard work that they do and the 114th, we love ya’ll, too!” said Queensbridge Tenant Association President April Simpson. “But you gotta get a little better with how you engage in the community.”

Simpson recently proposed a community basketball tournament and is part of the annual Night Out Against Crime event set for Aug 4 this year.

After the outcry over the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, the chokehold death of Eric Garner and the murder of two police officers, leaders and communities are searching for meaningful change in the relationship between citizens and police in New York City.

Simpson recalled, “My four brothers never got in any trouble because there were police out here to play basketball. There were things for the kids to do and also the parents were engaged. It’s about re-engaging with your children and the officers. This will show the children that even though the police are in an authority position, they are approachable. It is imperative that we come together to work things out. It is not about race. We are going through a crisis, but we need to know that there are excellent police officers and we support them.”

Other community members made suggestions for the police to support youth community groups and needing assistance in connecting with new developers who could offer employment to the surrounding residents.

“When I was a City Council member, I remember he LA riots happening in the ‘80s and we were afraid that there would be riots in New York. A group of us got together with Mayor David Dinkins and decided that we would support the police by walking with them to show the community that we support them,” Maloney said. “We are going to come up with lots of ideas because we need to figure out a way to work together. The NYPD and FDNY are the two twin towers of this city.”

In western Queens, Maloney is rallying for communities that want to strengthen ties with the police through community engagement. Meanwhile, in eastern Queens, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) attended a community board meeting to ensure that another Eric Garner death did not happen by gathering support for his bill to criminalize the use of chokeholds, which the mayor has vowed to veto in its current written form.

“[Maloney’s] efforts to strengthen the relationship between the NYPD and the community we serve will help us increase trust, reduce crime and improve the overall quality of life for residents of public housing in the 114 Precinct,” Maloney said.