Quality of life issues dominate neighborhood police tour in Gramercy

An officer listens to residents of Gramercy speak about concerns over loitering in the neighborhood at an NYPD Training Academy on Thursday, March 5. ( Photo by Eddy Martinez)

By Eddy Martinez

During a neighborhood listening tour at the New York Police Department’s Training Academy in Gramercy, some residents called for greater police presence in the neighborhood to deal with issues of loitering, drug use and menacing. But Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo, along with few residents, disagreed, arguing that more empathy is needed. 

“I am afraid; I was never afraid before,” an audience member said as she complained about the lack of street lights by the Bellevue Men’s Shelter at E. 30th street and 1st Avenue, which she said, has led to crimes in the area. Another audience member said that a neighborhood park had become dangerous at night. 

Pichardo looked on as an elderly woman complained about “wayward” children loitering in her apartment building near Park Avenue in Gramercy Park. She claimed that they were “invading” the building, dealing drugs, and assaulted the super of her building, ripping off his shirt in the process. Pichardo responded by asking her if arresting teenagers who needed social services would be the best solution. “The answer is no, absolutely not. All we’re doing is criminalizing a bunch of kids,” he said.

Richard Aguirre, 50, of Kips Bay, agreed. He believes that the best solution isn’t more arrests but communication, not just between police and residents but between older residents and young people. “When you interact with them, and you get to know them, you come to realize they’re broken people… once you sit down with them, then you see that they are just individuals who are crying out for help,” he said.

Pichardo said during the meeting that young people need to be seen as a potential resource and told the audience that young people have been an integral part in planning out NYPD contingency plans. He explained to the audience that police cannot be everywhere and reminded the audience that while their concerns are valid, Gramercy Park and Kips Bay are not suffering the same level of issues as other neighborhoods.

Veronica Vargas Lupo, 36, of NoMad and a member of NYC Moms for Safer Streets, said “There’s been a lot of incidents; behaviors that put our children at risk… we would like to see more safety for our children.” She wants more police, but she also agreed that there has to be a multi-pronged approach. “There are a lot of underlying complexities around (the) seriously mentally ill, drug addiction. And I do feel that we as a city are doing them a disservice.”

Lauren Curatolo, the Project Director of the Midtown Community Court was at the meeting to tell residents about the services her organization offers. She saw the meeting as a positive step in the right direction. “They expressed pretty directly that this is empathetic policing and really understanding what the needs are of people, and trying to address that instead of criminalizing poverty.”

Maria Trinidad, 70, who lives in Kips Bay, and is affiliated with the Midtown Community Court said that the police need to build stronger relationships with residents in the area. “Yes, there’s always room for improvement, like keeping them together, not every two or three months separating, bringing a new NCO,” she said. 

Ali Farahnakian, a former Saturday Night Live writer and founder of the People’s Improv Theater said during the meeting that, “It has to be looked at through the filter of there but for the grace of God go I, if we don’t, there is no empathy.” He was met with applause.

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