Staten Island Advance
July 10, 2004

Activists call for more cops

Police union claims city's 2 biggest precincts are not adequately patrolled

By JEFF HARRELL

It's not "uncommon" for only two patrol cars to cover each of the city's two largest police precincts -- both located on Staten Island -- according to a police union official.

According to numbers released by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, New Dorp's 122nd Precinct, which covers 27 square miles and a population of 191,090, regularly schedules four patrol cars for each of three eight-hour shifts. The precinct covers the largest geographical area in the city.

Tottenville's 123rd Precinct, the city's second-largest precinct area and the fastest-growing, with 17.5 square miles and a community population of 89,772, utilizes four patrol cars per eight-hour shift.

But, according to Albert O'Leary, a spokesman for the PBA, "It's not at all uncommon to see where [the 122nd Precinct and the 123rd Precinct] can put out only two cars per shift.

"It's a real problem," O'Leary said of a police-staffing dilemma that boils down to too many emergency calls and not enough cops to respond.

"It's a problem around the city," he said. "It's a problem mitigated by the perception that crime continues to drop. Frankly, we contend that that's a numbers game."

While the North Shore's 120th Precinct covers only 14.1 square miles, it is the Island's busiest precinct. Police statistics show a total of 810 offenses handled by the 120th Precinct through June 27, compared to 582 at the 122nd and 197 at the 123rd.

The PBA said five patrol cars are scheduled during the day shift at the 120th Precinct, and six each for the 4 p.m. to midnight and the midnight to 8 a.m. shifts.

However, according to law enforcement sources, if an arrest is made by a 120th Precinct patrol officer for a minor offense, such as public drinking, "they're basically taking that car off the street and losing 20 to 30 percent of their patrol force" in the borough's busiest precinct.

The number of police officers has been dropping since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. According to the PBA, in 1999 the city employed 27,000 patrol officers in the NYPD's 75 precincts. Today, there are 22,000, or about 70 fewer officers per precinct.

"The NYPD is constantly re-evaluating its resources and assigning personnel as needed," said Paul Browne, the department's deputy commissioner for public information, in a statement to the Advance. "Our strategies are proving successful."

Activists counter that the number of cops on the Island has been in steady decline for almost a decade.

At a rally yesterday in front of the 122nd Precinct, Victoria Fagan, president and founder of Victoria Fagan of Citizens Outraged with Puny Police Services, said, "I want to meet with [Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly] to have him address issues of our concern."

Patricia Lockhart, a teacher at PS 57 in Clifton who lives in Dongan Hills, brought students to the rally to show that kids care about cops, too.

Ms. Fagan said top administrative sources in the department revealed to her that the Island would be assigned approximately 50 new cops from the Police Academy's recent graduating class.

She called it a start, but not a solution. She was hoping for 75.

When asked if she would prefer more cops or a fourth precinct for the borough, as has been proposed, Ms. Fagan responded: "Staff the existing precincts in the meantime, before the fourth building goes up."

Michael Arvanites, legislative coordinator for City Councilman Michael McMahon (D-North Shore), said the councilman's priority during the past budget cycle was helping to secure $36 million for the new, state-of-the-art 120th Precinct stationhouse, planned for Hill Street in Stapleton.

The North Shore precinct is currently headquartered in an aged building on Richmond Terrace, opposite the Richmond County Bank Ball Park at St. George.

"We'd love to get a new precinct with the staffing to complete it," Arvanites said. "It's certainly something to look at."

Arvanites said McMahon's feelings on the matter are, "The cops we have go above and beyond the call of duty, we just need more of them."

Joe Valentin, president of the 122nd Community Council, worries that the Island's overworked officers are going to burn out.

He said that if a major incident occurred, calling for a large police response, parts of the borough would be virtually unprotected.

"The guys are doing more with less," he said. Valentin added that he wasn't surprised when police sources told the Advance there wasn't enough manpower to handle all the fireworks-related phone calls on July 4.

"We've been saying that all along," he said. "[Cops are] not machines, they're humans."

Jeff Harrell and Doug Auer cover police and fire news for the Advance. They may be reached at harrell@siadvance.com and auer@siadvance.com.