Gotham Gazette

February 3, 2004

Operation Impact and
the Shooting of Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

by Jaime Adame

Atop a Brooklyn roof, a single bullet from one cop’s gun pierced the chest of a nineteen-year old last month, ending his life and sparking yet another firestorm over police tactics. Timothy Stansbury, Jr. was armed only with a stack of CDs, on his way to a party via a rooftop shortcut, when he was shot at the top of the stairwell in his building, a public housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, by Officer Richard Neri.

Neri and other officers were patrolling the rooftop of the building, reportedly trying to open the door to go downstairs at the same time Stansbury and his friends were trying to use the same door to reach the roof. Whether Stansbury, Jr., was the victim of an accident or something criminal, a grand jury will decide. But while some focused on the swiftness with which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly condemned the shooting as unjustified, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s quick arrival on the scene to comfort a grieving family, on the streets the story was about the police.

“The police see you and think you’re a suspect,” said Samuel Jackson, 20, of Crown Heights, calling police in his neighborhood disrespectful and overly aggressive. Jackson was reacting not only to the Stansbury shooting, but to a police effort widely hailed as a triumph by city leaders.

Last January, the story in Crown Heights was Operation Impact, a police effort involving bulked-up patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, in some cases, areas as small as a subway station or housing project. The police effort reduced total felony crimes in the targeted areas by 33 percent, from 11,033 to 7,421.Those numbers probably contributed to an FBI rating announced in December that put New York City among the safest cities with a population of 100,000 or more. City officials proudly trumpeted the success of Operation Impact when announcing last month that the program would be expanded. Operation Impact II will involve more police officers and stretch across more police precincts.

Crown Heights was where the original Operation Impact was first announced, and the increased police presence has not gone unnoticed. But while no one denied the need for police in their neighborhood, police tactics were openly questioned.

Jackson described tales of harassment that ranged from the trivial (he was told to go inside while drinking a beer on a stoop) to something more than that (he was pulled over while in a cab, searched and then “left like a dog.” )

He is not alone in expressing concerns about police conduct. Across the city, 5,581 people issued complaints about New York police last year, a 21 percent increase from 2002 and the highest number since 1995, according to a report by the Civilian Complaint Review Board released last month, as reported in Newsday.

Nevertheless, shooting incidents have decreased substantially for the police precinct, the 77th, which includes Crown Heights. Shootings numbered 64 in 2003, a reported 15 percent decrease from 2002. Police had reported a 41 percent increase in shooting incidents from 2001-2002. Homicides, however, remained unchanged, numbering 15 in 2002 and 2003.

Zeroing in on the impact areas, the numbers are rosier for the city overall. Shooting incidents in the impact zones decreased 30 percent, from 184 to 128. Homicides decreased 39 percent in the troubled areas, from 49 to 30.

Operation Impact II will send more than 1,000 police officers to 52 so-called impact zones, each chosen based on a statistical analysis of crimes. The officers, fresh graduates from the police academy, will join about 700 officers already working in the impact zones. Many of the new officers will be on foot patrols, and they will work with more veteran officers.