9th top cop on noise, N.C.O.’s, ‘no park tower’

Captain Vincent Greany is leading the Ninth Precinct in a community-oriented direction under the new Neighborhood Coordination Officers program. Photos by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Captain Vincent Greany, the young new commander of the Ninth Precinct, was finishing up a cup of green tea in his office when The Villager arrived on a recent morning at the E. Fifth St. stationhouse.

Greany, 38, has an earnest, yet calm and professional demeanor. He has been the commanding officer at the East Village precinct since last June.

In a wide-ranging, hour-and-a-half-long interview, he talked about the problems of bar noise and cell phone theft, the precinct’s new Neighborhood Coordination Officers program, the parking spots in front of the Hells Angels’ clubhouse, why Tompkins Square Park should never have a police surveillance tower and how the precinct is using social media to combat crime.

Greany previously served in Manhattan in other precincts covering Midtown, Washington Heights, Harlem and Gramercy, as well as in the Police Department’s Narcotics Division and Internal Affairs Bureau, the latter in which he fought departmental corruption. Right before coming to the Ninth, he was assigned to a federal task force that handled narcotics and money-laundering cases. He was promoted to captain while still in his early 30s.

Greany gives every impression of being a straight arrow. No one in his family had ever been a cop, but it was always a calling for him.

“I knew early on that I wanted to go into law enforcement and have that life of helping others, that significance,” he said. “It’s just something that I had early on, that I wanted to be a police officer.”

He didn’t consider being a firefighter, though.

“No, I’m afraid of fires,” he said.

He is married and lives with his family north of the city, within the allowable distance to be a member of the New York Police Department. He was born and raised in the Norwood section of the Bronx.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Marist College.

He is enjoying his new command.

“The Ninth is good,” he said. “It’s the first time I got to work in the East Village. There’s a lot of bars and restaurants. It’s very diverse. There’s a lot of school kids — N.Y.U., St. John’s, Cooper Union — and longtime residents.”

He likes that unique mix. There is the vibrancy of the young university students. At the same time, he also has respect for the neighborhood veterans, who have stuck it out through the years and care passionately about their neighborhood.

“I like meeting all the different people in the community,” he said. “The residents who have lived here a long time — listening to them, they enlighten me and I really get to hear the history of the neighborhood. Then you get the students, people who are coming here from all over the world.”

Bar noise battle

Dealing with noise from all the area’s nightlife is a constant challenge in the Ninth.

“We try to work with the business owners the best we can and manage the noise,” Greany said. “I often say at the Community Council, if I could manage the noise, I’d be mayor of New York City. It’s the number one complaint in New York City.”

He was referring to the Ninth Precinct Community Council, the monthly meeting at which officers report to the community about local crime, then field residents’ questions about their concerns.

Indeed, in the last 20 years, annual homicides in the city have plunged from 2,300 to 335 last year.

New York is a noisy place, though, and keeping the decibels down to a reasonable level is a constant struggle.

“There’s a level of noise, and then there’s an outrageous level of noise,” Greany noted. “Since I’ve been here, I try to get the bar owners and the complainants together. They’ve just got to hear each other face to face.”

That approach has been a success, as problem operators have worked to turn down the volume.

“I use a lot of baseball analogies,” the captain said. “So far, I’ve been 5 for 5.

“A lot of it is the simple solution of closing the door, paying attention to the patrons outside the establishment and bringing them back inside or telling them to disperse,” he noted. “Some of the places in the East Village, I’ve seen they’ve got really good soundproofing inside. It really helps.”

Terrorism conscious

“Another thing,” Greany added, “we try to stay linked in with the bars and restaurants because of the terrorism aspect.”

In other words, in today’s reality, anywhere with large gatherings and large numbers of people in the street and nightlife districts, police must be vigilant. After the Bataclan shooting in Paris in November 2015, French people vigiling in Washington Square Park noted that the 11th arrondissement is a lot like the East Village.

“That could happen anywhere,” Greany said after The Villager mentioned the Bataclan attack. “That’s something we think about on a daily basis. The most important thing is keeping that connection between us and the establishments — making sure camera systems work, ID scanners work. If they have any large event, we work with the club or bar. We’ll meet with them before the event.”

Asked if there were any clubs in particular that the precinct works with closely on large events, Greany mentioned Webster Hall.

Tompkins Square

Asked about Tompkins Square Park, Greany said, “It’s a place we like to interact with the community rather than just do enforcement. But there are narcotics arrests in there. We work with the Department of Homeless Services and the Narcotics Division to make sure there are no encampments. We don’t want to go backwards.”

He was referring to the homeless “tent city” that mushroomed in the park after the riots.

Queried about concerns voiced by some about the decibel level from the annual Tompkins Square Riots anniversary concerts and hardcore punk shows, Greany said he met with some of the concert organizers over the summer.

“I was 10 years old back in 1988. I vaguely remember seeing some of that on TV,” he said of the riots. “The idea is to not overpolice it. That’s not necessary. … Since I’ve been here, crime in the park has gone down and our visibility in the park has gone way up. That’s the way we’d like to keep it.”

What about the police surveillance tower that was stationed in the park two summers ago after an uptick of homelessness there? Neighborhood outcry and a petition quickly led to the tower’s removal in less than a week.

“No tower,” Greany stressed. “It’s a park. We don’t need a watchtower in there.”

Overall crime is down in the precinct, he noted, despite “stop and frisk” having been reduced 90 percent citywide.

“We correlated that to more-focused policing,” he said of the crime reduction. “When you focus in, you see that it’s a small group of perpetrators that create most of the crime.”

N.C.O. initiative

New at the Ninth since early October is the Neighborhood Coordination Officers program. Under the initiative, the precinct — which is bounded by E. 14th St., Broadway, E. Houston St. and the East River — is split up into four sectors. There are a total of eight N.C.O. officers, with two assigned to each sector.

Under the Neighborhood Coordination Officers program, the East Village’s Ninth Precinct has been separated into four sectors, as seen in this map in Captain Vincent Greany’s office. Two N.C.O. officers apiece are assigned to “quaterback” police-related issues in each sector.

“They’re in charge of quarterbacking any issues in their area — quality of life, homelessness, drugs, nightlife — in addition to crime,” Greany explained.

The “D” sector, known as “David,” covers the precinct’s northwest corner and is the busiest, with the most nightlife. “B” sector, or “Boy,” covers Tompkins Square Park. Sector “A,” or “Adam,” covers the precinct’s southeast part and also the public housing along the precinct’s eastern edge. (Public Service Area 4 — the Housing Police unit that covers the public housing — also has 2 N.C.O. officers of its own.) Finally, sector “C” a.k.a. “Charlie” takes in the homeless shelters along the Bowery.

“It’s a population with a lot of illness involved, mental health and substance abuse,” Greany said, sympathetically, of the Bowery area. “It’s a population that’s dealing with a lot.”

The basic idea of the N.C.O. program is to have the designated pair of officers in each sector “interact as much as possible” with the community, Greany explained.

“We have had overwhelming positive feedback so far — from the community and also the police officers,” he said, “and we’re trying to build on that. When they come to work, they know right where they’re going. They take ownership of that area. Everybody starts to recognize each other.”

The eight officers have profiles on the precinct’s Facebook page, “NYPD 9th Precinct.” (Go to “photos” and “untitled album.”) The main photo on the Ninth’s FB home page is also of the N.C.O.’s.

Slightly more than half of the city’s police precincts already have the N.C.O. program, and the number will increase this year. It’s an initiative by new Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

“It was his vision,” Greany noted. “He pushed very hard for it. We’re happy to be the first precinct in Manhattan South [south of 59th St.] to have it.”

Building relationships

In addition, all of the precinct’s other patrol officers spend their “off radio” time — about one-third of their time on duty — patrolling in one of the four sectors.

“So residents get to see the same officers, the same car,” Greany explained. “It’s easiest to build relationships like that. That’s when we want them engaging with residents and storeowners.”

When the officers are “on radio,” they respond to calls throughout the precinct.

The N.C.O. “sector teams” (the pairs of officers assigned full time to each sector) don’t have to rush to 911 calls. Instead, there is a “response car” that goes around.

Because the new N.C.O. program is “resource intensive,” Greany noted, the precinct’s manpower was boosted from 150 officers to its current 185.

Hells Angels’ cones

As for the Hells Angels, Greany said the precinct is not singling them out for enforcement after someone’s daring to move one of their orange parking cones in early December triggered a rumble and shooting outside their E. Third St. clubhouse. However, he said, no one should be able to reserve parking spots with cones.

“I think everybody should follow the Department of Transportation regulations,” he stated. “No one’s above the law on those regulations.” He noted, for example, that the Ninth Precinct can only park its cars perpendicularly on E. Fifth St. because D.O.T. granted them permission to do that.

As for the Hells Angels staking out parking spots with cones, the captain simply said, “If there were any obstructions, they should not be there now.” After the shooting, the precinct showed the biker gang who’s boss, by removing a ramp, bench and plants in front of the clubhouse, while D.O.T. ticketed motorbikes whose license plates were covered by tarps. The police didn’t expressly warn the gang against using the cones, he said, yet they seem to have gotten the message.

At the same time, Greany noted, even without using the cones, “They have their ways” of holding spots, such as by keeping their motorcycles there. But he added, “If those bikes ever move, people should have a right to park there. They shouldn’t have fear. No one should live in fear.”

If anyone does feel afraid about parking there, he or she should call the precinct, he said.

Property theft

There is a lot of property theft in the precinct, he acknowledged.

“People take cell phones and there’s identity theft. With all the bars and restaurants, there’s a lot of unattended property,” he said. “When you have a phone, you put it down, turn your attention away, someone can take it.”

As for policing protests — happening so often lately — Greany said, officers are trained to stay professional.

“We throw the uniform on,” he said, “and we don’t have to weigh in one way or the other. We’re there to keep the peace, and protect the protesters, as well, and make sure no one interferes with their freedoms.”

If protesters curse them out or provoke them, he said, officers are trained to keep cool.

“We know it’s not personal with us,” he said. “We protect each other. It’s like a professional athlete — they’re locked in on their job. You just stay focused on the mission of allowing people to exercise their freedom and protecting property.”

Using social media

Greany operates and monitors the precinct’s social media, including its Twitter feed, as well as Facebook. You can find precinct news posted there, such as how, in early December, two of the N.C.O.’s used a Narcon shot to save a man’s life after he overdosed on heroin on the street. At the same time, people can submit complaints and crime tips via the precinct’s social media. Greany noted that a check-cashing place had recently sent him a photo of a fraudulent check, which resulted in an arrest.

Greany didn’t have much social media experience before taking over the Ninth.

“As I say, I’m always learning,” he said. “And I worked with some of the millennials here who are more social-media savvy to help me. I learned quick, I learned on the job.”

Social media is a powerful tool, in his view.

“Say there is a missing elderly person or a lost child,” he said, “or someone who’s wanted for a violent crime. It’s a way to get that message out. Before, you just had a 30-second message on TV. Millennials engage more through social media.”

On the other hand, Greany said, part of his job is also to visit local senior homes.

“We have five of them in the precinct,” he said. “We defend the defenseless — the elderly and young children.”

Going green

Getting back to that green tea, Greany is into health and fitness, and that includes diet.

“I want to break the trend of cops eating donuts,” he said. “Some cops do drink green tea. I try to eat clean. And then when we do get into a stressful situation, you can perform.”

As for what he eats, he said, “Just a lot of greens, a lot of vegetables. Stay hydrated.”

He also enjoys weight training, running and martial arts.

Getting involved

There are many ways community members can engage with the precinct. Every third Tuesday of the month, the Ninth Precinct Community Council meets and most of the N.C.O. sector officers will be there.

People over age 18 can also volunteer to become auxiliary officers, for whom Greany has great respect.

“They were there during 9/11, they were there during Hurricane Sandy,” he said of the Ninth’s auxiliaries. “They are a valuable resource.”

Individuals can also sign up for a two-hour ride-along with Ninth Precinct officers.

“You get to see and hear and experience what we experience,” he noted.

In December, they also started a Ninth Precinct Youth Council program, which meets monthly and focuses on teenagers.

“Teens can talk about their concerns,” Greany explained. Cyber bullying has been an early discussion topic.

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